What skills are expected of graduates?

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, employers expect the following from university graduates:

‘Employers expect graduates to demonstrate a range of skills and attributes that include team-working, communication, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and often managerial abilities or potential. Employers are frustrated that higher education courses do not meet their needs.’

This was, according to the report, one of the findings in a survey carried out by educational charity Edge. The survey also found, apparently, that in the UK a significant minority of employers felt that these skills and attributes were often not found in graduates.

There is as we know already a lively debate in higher education about the extent to which universities should be training students for work. The question of transferable skills adds an additional element to this debate.

The skills and attributes mentioned in the Daily Telegraph article are certainly of direct benefit to graduates and their employers. But to what extent are they, even indirectly, what universities believe they are teaching students? Is it time for higher education institutions to assess their own programmes to determine the extent to which students graduating from these programmes are likely to be able to satisfy employer requirements?

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11 Comments on “What skills are expected of graduates?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I suspect that for the most part ’employers’ use a university education as a CV cull.
    Also, remember a few weeks/weeks back you produced an article from the USA where many graduates are going into the trades for want of reasonable paid employment. These people had good degrees from reputable places and as such were costly in the extreme. But, because of oversupply they decided if they would have any hope of a middle-class lifestyle then they needed a trade.
    Overall, I believe there is too much choice. An oversupply of graduates with an expensive education offering themselves to those that have no notion of what the hell to do with their skills.
    Not so long ago in Ireland we had the situation where call-centers were requiring degrees in order to answer phones.

  2. Al Says:

    This is one of the big issues facing us, the link between education and ability, knowing and doing.

    The issue is often reduced to employers complaints about graduates not being able to…; with the retort that society needs people that are able to think as citizens. But society needs people that can think and do!

    Training- as in developing abilities to a level of skill that can deliver efficient, quality outcomes should be part of any graduate or post graduate programme. Be it a computer programmer, chemist or philosopher, they should leave a programme with an ’employable’ level of ability.

    A difficulty here is deciding where “Learning Outcomes” sit beside “Training Outcomes”.
    It would be difficult to claim abilities as the outcome of “learning” when abilities can only be developed through talent and training.

    Is it possible that the Learning Outcome model contributes to the problem in that training and ability focus are ignored because they cant be an outcome of learning and if this be the case, nor an point of assessment?

  3. Ian Johnson Says:

    Maybe you should find out what is happening in your own university before firing off messages like this. This message could be taken as implicit criticism of RGU along with the rest, but it’s probably ahead of the field in addressing these issues.

  4. jfryar Says:

    I always have two problems with this sort of ’employer-related’ nonsense.

    Can you ‘teach’ someone to think critically? Can you ‘teach’ them to problem solve? To what extent are the skills employers look for ‘taught’ and to what extent are they ‘intrinsic’ or ‘personal’ to the candidate?

    Secondly, many of those skills were acquired by previous employees over many years of employment. Now employers seem to demand carbon copy employees ready to ‘hit the ground running’. Which for me is basically an admission that companies are unwilling to pay for proper training and development of their staff, and therefore potential candidates should be wary of applying to such companies.

  5. Fred Says:

    Another important question is what employers actually want, what they actually need and if they are realy able to pay for that.
    It is common for employers to argue that graduates do not deliver exactly what they were expecting from them. However, there is a great variety of opinions on what actually employers are expecting from graduates. Different fields require different skills and firm-specific requirements can not be taught in any university.

  6. cormac Says:

    During what passes as my career in academia so far, the Irish government department concerned with education has changed its name of ‘Dept of Education’ to ‘Dept of Education and Science’ and finally to ‘Dept of Education and Skills’.
    I suspect such changes are indicative of government thinking. If so, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the last change; it seems a bit narrow in design, suggesting a view of all three levels of education as a matter of producing bodies for the workforce…surely there is more to it than that?

  7. Ned Costello Says:

    The Department’s name changed because responsibility for the training side of FAS was transferred from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to DES. It’s simply what it says on the tin. Most government departments tend to be named after their main functional components.

  8. iainmacl Says:

    sorry, one in six employers were disappointed in graduates’ skills? why is this a news story then? Telegraph obviously, given its usual agenda would probably have preferred a higher proportion since their headline and story was clearly meant to confirm their usual prejudice against universities, particularly those frightful modern ones.

    So is the ‘debate’ being fueled not by employers (5 in 6 of whom are not dissatisfied) but by the newspapers? ho hum. Maybe they need to develop their own staff skills in areas such as statistics, critical thinking and recognising bias.

  9. cormac Says:

    Ned: that was the point I was making. The name is indicative of this change, which is quite a big change. And how exactly do you know this is the only reason?

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