Higher education not developing work skills

A fifth of UK employers believe school leavers make better employees than university graduates.

Research by recruiter Adecco of more than 500 companies raises the issue of whether universities are sufficiently preparing young people for the world of work.

More than half of employers (53 per cent) argue that university graduates have unrealistic expectations of working life and more than one in three (36 per cent) believe that the education system is failing to equip young people with the critical skills required by British businesses.

Graduates agree, with nearly half (46 per cent) admitting that their degree failed to provide the right skills to enter the world of work.

According to employers, newcomers are found to be most lacking in interpersonal skills (41 per cent), and critical IT skills (41 per cent). A quarter of employers (25 per cent) report a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills among graduate recruits.

Younger employees are also perceived to be less conscientious than their older colleagues. When comparing 25 and 40 year olds in the workforce, very few employers believe their younger staff members possess a better attitude towards timekeeping (4 per cent), productivity (4 per cent) or teamwork (6 per cent) than their senior peers.

Additionally, younger employees are seen to be much less likely to work long hours (6 per cent), go the extra mile (9 per cent) or show loyalty to their employer (1 per cent).

Conversely, the research highlights that under 25s have a strong entrepreneurial spirit (37 per cent) and are keen drivers of change (28 per cent) compared to their older counterparts.

Chris Moore, managing director of Adecco says, ‘Undeniably, Britain has one of the best and most advanced education systems in the world but it must deliver a talented, reliable graduate workforce that brings demonstrable value to UK plc. On a significant scale, employers believe it is failing to do that.

‘Although extremely valuable, a strong academic record is no longer a sufficient prerequisite for entry into today’s working environment. Collectively, we – the government, businesses and educators – must work together and take full responsibility for developing skills in line with commercial needs.’

We need more engineers and youngsters with tech skills

Britain’s education system must encourage interest in engineering and manufacturing for a stronger future economy, argues Sara Williams, founder of Vitesse Media plc.

Engineering milestones have been reached. The business founded by James Dyson is about to reach £1 billion sales for the first time. And last week Rolls Royce burst through the £1 billion profit barrier, also a first. The UK needs more celebratory moments to encourage engineering and manufacturing, which is urgently needed to ‘rebalance the economy’ in the government’s and Bank of England’s parlance.

It’s utterly crucial that there is a complete change of culture, starting with the young and persuading the best brains in the country to consider careers outside the City. My younger son graduated from Oxford 18 months ago. Among his peers, as far as I could see, the only careers being considered were investment banking, the law, accountancy or management consultancy, with a goodly selection opting for the Teach First programme. Among mathematicians, hedge funds and spreadbetting firms were considered. But industry and engineering weren’t attractive as career options to any of them.

This attitude has to be reversed and that’s why I support attempts to curb remuneration amongst the City high-fliers, not as an act of revenge for the havoc caused over the last few years by their financial failings, but because the best young brains in the country need to be persuaded to go into careers to make ‘things’. Of course, this could cover technology, too.

I’m old enough to remember the days of lots of small manufacturing and engineering businesses (as well as major industrial concerns) in the UK – how fantastic it would be if we could see a new wave of innovative entrepreneurs, creating high-spec industrial and engineering businesses over the next few years. The UK could look forward to a stronger and more rewarding economy – and that would help all our businesses, including the myriad of traditional service businesses, which are such a feature of our current entrepreneurial sector.

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