One in five graduates not ‘workplace ready’, research finds

HR leaders feel grads lack leadership and negotiation skills, but experts say employability is high on the agenda for universities

Nearly a fifth of graduates are not 'workplace ready', according to businesses surveyed by Pearson Business School.

The research found employers and HR leaders felt 17 per cent of graduates were underprepared for the world of work because they lacked crucial skills.

Almost half (48 per cent) of the 531 HR managers polled said graduates lacked leadership skills, while a similar number identified skills gaps in negotiation (44 per cent) and strategy and planning (38 per cent).

The research found 69 per cent of people professionals felt graduates were only ‘somewhat’ ready for the workplace, while just 13 per cent thought graduates were ready “to hit the ground running” after university.

Roxanne Stockwell, principal of Pearson College London, said the research showed employers were increasingly looking for applicants with employability skills and relevant work experience.

“There have been great gains in recent years in integrating higher education with industry, but clearly there is still more to be done,” Stockwell said. “Educational institutions need to collaborate with business to ensure students develop skills such as leadership and negotiation to enhance the employability of today’s young workforce.”

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Pearson Business School also polled 1,012 recent graduates. It found many felt unprepared for engaging with the graduate recruitment processes. 

Only one in four graduates (24 per cent) said they had prepared for the application process by undertaking a mock interview at university, while only 37 per cent said they spoke to a career adviser before graduating.

A fifth (18 per cent) of graduates believed that university did not fully equip them for the world of work. Leadership, negotiation and technical skills were among the areas grads said they felt ill-equipped in, cited by 34, 25 and 23 per cent of respondents respectively.

Dan Hawes, co-founder and marketing director at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, told People Management that employability increasingly topped universities’ agendas. But he warned that higher education institutions and HR and L&D professionals must not focus on obviously vocational skills at the expense of less tangible, but equally important, qualities.

“With the economy driven by technological advances, it is hard to predict what skills will be in demand for jobs that haven’t been created yet,” Hawes said. “And we should not lose sight [of the fact] that higher education is about much more than just workplace readiness; rather it’s expanding the mind, and as we enter this new economic age we need great thinkers to lead the way.” 

He highlighted Graduate Recruitment Bureau research that suggested problem-solving, teamwork and interpersonal skills were the most in-demand among graduate hirers, with these soft skills just as important as academic achievement. “The message is getting through to university students who increasingly view the start of their career as the minute they set foot on campus,” Hawes said. 

The Pearson research also explored the link between graduates’ studies, work experience and eventual careers. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of graduates said they had undertaken work experience – paid and unpaid – while at university, and 51 per cent indicated this influenced their career choice. 

Half of businesses (48 per cent) said relevant work experience was important when recruiting. This was less than the number who cited demonstrable interest in the organisation’s type of work (67 per cent) and interview performance (60 per cent).

However, 61 per cent said relevant work experience was more important than a graduate’s grades.