Graduate employment vacancies are expected to rise for the third consecutive year, but recruiters fear applicants will not have the right social skills to do the job, according to recently published research.

The Nuffield Review Higher Education Focus Group’s preliminary report examined the outcomes that higher education providers look for from secondary school pupils coming to university. It found that many students coming to university were not sufficiently equipped with basic literacy skills, complaining: “basic writing skills are lacking”. Graduate employers, however, seem less concerned by spelling and literacy, but instead by the social skills graduates gain at university.
More than half of the 222 companies from the private and public sector who took part in the biannual AGR graduate recruitment survey said they were not confident they would be able to fill all their vacancies, despite increasing graduate numbers, because university leavers lacked the necessary teamwork, leadership and communication skills; 58 per cent anticipated insufficient candidates with these capabilities.

Commenting in response to the survey, Boris Johnson, the shadow minister for Higher Education, on his website claimed that, "Too many graduates are simply not ready for the workplace, and it is terrifying to discover that some of them cannot even have a sustained conversation", emphasising the assertion that too many graduates lack basic skills for work.

The survey, which canvasses opinion from some of the largest graduate recruiters, predicted that the number of vacancies would increase by 14.6% to 19,496 this year – significantly higher that last year’s rise of 5.1%. More than half of employers said they expected to take on more graduates in 2006 than last year, while just 18% expected to hire fewer. Most of the vacancies would be located in London and the south-east, although recruitment here in the north-east is expected to rise by 50%.

The AGR expects salaries to rise, but any increase would be the lowest for five years. The median salary for 2006 is predicted to be £23,000, a rise of just 2.3%, compared to the actual increase of 7.1% last year. Companies are expected to do little more than match inflation this year. Almost half predicted a reduction or no change in pay.
However, employers said they did not think the small salaries increase would stop university leavers applying. Instead they were more concerned that they would not find candidates with the right skills for the job. They said "grade inflation" at university and school made it more difficult to select candidates – and they were looking for graduates who could demonstrate "softer" skills as well as academic ability.

The chief executive of the AGR, Carl Gilleard, said the rise in vacancies was "good news for the class of 2006", but added: "Final-year student should be aware that nearly half of recruiters expect to face difficulties in fulfilling recruitment objectives – with the largest factor being a lack of applicants with the right skills”. Prolific employers, such as HSBC, IBM and Procter & Gamble, have highlighted the need for graduates to emerge from university well-rounded and possessing not just a solid degree but the life skills necessary to make the transition from lecture hall to office smooth.


Thea Shahrokh

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