Graduates: surplus to requirements?
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Graduates: surplus to requirements?

Way back in 2017 (where does the time go?!) we were blogging about the exciting new degree apprenticeships. We even dared to suggest this could be the death of the graduate. But what has happened since? Have young people stopped taking the traditional route?

As it happens, not exactly. There is no doubt that the value of degrees to both graduates and society is a topic of hot debate. This is especially so given the rising tuition fees and the attraction of degree apprenticeships as a ‘degree without the £30,000 worth of debt’ option.

But the grad market is certainly still strong. Prospects 2018/2019 report, What Do Graduates Do? found that graduate unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1979. The High Fliers Graduate Market in 2019 report also shows that the UK’s top employers increased their graduate vacancies by 9.1% in 2019, the biggest annual rise in graduate recruitment for nine years. Before Brexit became all consuming to the British Chambers of Commerce, the focus of their Quarterly Economic Survey (Q4, 2017) was on the skills shortages in professional and managerial roles (read: graduates!). In short - there are plenty of grads still out there, and they’re in demand.

Graduates v apprentices

We know that grad jobs and apprenticeships can offer very different opportunities. They also demand different skill sets from young people. Put simply, graduates will be stepping into jobs which immediately require a high level of responsibility, and often some degree of managerial ability. Apprentices don't have quite such high expectations put on their shoulders from day one. Apprenticeships are experiencing a bit of a renaissance – a ‘skills-based’ education is seen as a real asset. But this certainly doesn’t devalue higher education, and what is it doing in relation to the revolving needs of employers and the UK economy.

Employers clearly aren’t losing interest in graduates. And as the job market and the nature of future careers becomes far less linear, recruiting individuals with a degree will continue to be a necessity across a range of industries. The skills young people gain whilst at university can provide some essential strengths – an ability to innovate and be creative, self-motivated and hard working. As higher education institutions embed employability skills into their degree programmes, graduates will continue to be in high demand.

Are your grads prepared?

Despite all this, the bar is set high for graduates. We totally get it – going to university is a step up. It definitely equips young people with the skills they need to pursue and succeed in a future career. Grads have that little extra over apprenticeships and unsurprisingly, graduate roles pay more, and expect more. Unfortunately this can mean that many graduates are landing themselves their dream job, but aren't prepared and just don't cut the mustard.

Lancaster University research into graduate resilience through student-employment transitions found that their students were not ‘work ready’. They lacked confidence in their own abilities and weren't prepared for the volume of work and responsibility placed on them. Employer feedback showed that graduates were also challenged by time management demands (who ever heard of a student working 9 ‘til 5 anyway?), leadership skills, and taking accountability for their actions.

Part of the challenge in getting our grads work ready is accounting for the way in which skill requirements are changing. Young people are focusing on hard skills, degree classes and professional development – but these have a short shelf life in a shrinking labour market. Developing the graduates we need will become increasingly complex and urgent - as the impact of the fourth industrial revolution and the speed of change requires new skills, re-skilling and upskilling.

The challenge is real...

Graduates clearly have a big task on their hands, as do graduate employers. We need to shape early careers talent for jobs that are yet to exist, and soft skills will most definitely be at the forefront of this. All in all, we can’t help but agree with Dr Adam Marshall, Director General at British Chambers of Commerce on this one:

“Labour and skills shortages are the biggest potential drag anchor on business, since ultimately it is people that make businesses work. Business itself must do more – by training and investing wherever possible in people…”

So, how will you invest?

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