What do employers want in graduates?
One of the recurring themes in public discussions about higher education in these islands over recent times has been the apparent dissatisfaction by employers with the attainments and skills of graduates. It is sometimes suggested that university graduates are not sufficiently literate and numerate and are often inadequate communicators.
An interesting initiative in response to this is the ‘Generation 21’ project recently launched by my former institution, Dublin City University (DCU). This is how the university describes the initiative:
‘Generation 21 is a culmination of extensive consultation with DCU staff, students and employers in Ireland and overseas on the attributes, skills and proficiencies they consider important in graduates today and in the future. A key element of Generation 21 includes the graduate attributes programme which identifies six key important attributes every DCU graduate will have after graduation and which are underpinned by proficiencies and skills that they will acquire in their university years, through full engagement in university life, both inside and outside the lecture theatre. The attributes which DCU will foster in each of its graduates are: Creative and Enterprising, Solution-Oriented, Effective Communicators, Globally Engaged, Active Leaders, Committed to Continuous Learning.’
DCU undertook this project in response to the findings of a survey of employers that it commissioned, and this has some interesting results. Asked to identify the attributes of graduates that are most important, respondents suggested they should be ‘hard-working’, ‘flexible’, and ‘results-driven’. On the other hand, attributes considered to be less of a priority were ‘globally aware’, ‘enterprising’ and ‘enquiring’.
This assessment of priorities might seem rather curious, because on the face of it these priorities suggest that the additional value typically provided by higher education is seen as less important, and that employers are not particularly looking for entrepreneurial talents. Indeed this may imply that employers are far from clear what it really is they want from universities, and that graduates with initiative may not particularly be what they are looking for.
I have no doubt that universities should take seriously the importance of providing students with key skills that will assist them in the labour market. I wholly support DCU’s initiative. However, it may be important for universities to realize that employers themselves are not often clear about what they are looking for, and this should inform discussions with them.