The Unemployable Graduate: And the great skills gap… [Part 3]

“Without a remedy for this mismatch of demand and supply, we forecast that by 2020 there will be a global shortfall of 85m high and middle skills workers for the labour market.”

This worrying statistic came from The Economist in November 2012 and considering recent reports that state that 65% of UK CEO’s  believe that ‘a lack of skills is hampering the growth prospects of their organisations’, this prediction is not unfounded. The gap is particularly evident among potential entry level employees with 40% of employers reporting that they struggle to fill these vacancies as candidates have inadequate skills.

Findings from a recent McKinsey survey reveal that the contradictory perceptions held by employers, education-providers and young people may be contributing to the problem:

70% of employers blame inadequate training for the shortfall in skilled workers.


70% of education providers believe they properly prepare graduates for the jobs market.


Employers state that less than half of the young they hire have adequate problem solving skills.


Nearly two-thirds of young people around the world profess to having these skills.


60% of young people around the world would pay more for education that would make them more attractive in the job market.


70% of employers say they would pay more for the right talent… if they could find it.

These statistics suggest that what is required from employers, education-providers and the young is being misunderstood. Whilst 70% of employers acknowledge that they have a duty to help tackle youth employment, they still appear to rely on academic institutions to prepare young people for employment. However, as the working world becomes increasingly complex, businesses need to invest in both training resources and in the development of their recruiting strategy if this global skills gap is to improve.

Recent CIPD research published by the Changeboard magazine, reveals that organisations focus increasingly on recruiting only for the immediate term, with just 6% of organisations looking ahead to the next five years. When vacancies arise, they are often reactionary, so require someone who can ‘do the job now’. Because of this approach there is limited scope for the development of young people within an organisation.

Alongside this, despite 64% of employers agreeing that young people need to be given the opportunity to prove themselves, one in four organisations did not recruit a single person aged 16-24 in the last 12 months, and just 56% say they’re unlikely to do so in the next year. With this approach the emerging skills gap will only get worse. As Rudiger says employers have ‘a real responsibility to help’ and are in a position to do so. However, the CIPD’s recent Learning to Work research has shown that organisations are failing to share their knowledge with ‘only 24% of organisations offering internships and 29% visiting schools’.

However, whilst it is essential that businesses reassess how they approach their long-term recruitment strategies, the increasing skills gap also reflects on how academic institutions and businesses interact. There appears to be a misunderstanding between what makes someone skilled and employable and how these attributes are measured. As the perception of what graduates should contribute to the workplace advances, so does the demand on what a university education should provide. But are universities being asked to evolve into something they were never set up to be – an institution that offers both an apprenticeship and scholarship? As the recruiting world increasingly calls for all skills to be backed up by directly relevant and substantial experience, are the skills learnt through academic practices now not appreciated as much as those developed through vocational training? And for those people who aren’t pursuing a career in academia, are universities their best route or do apprenticeships offer a better opportunity for skill development?

Rebecca Binns, HR business partner at Arriva plc., believes that the distinction between graduates and apprentices is becoming more blurred:

“We have a very established, tried and tested apprenticeship program that sits alongside our graduate scheme. Apprenticeship programs are often the best way to get into engineering, but we found that there was a bit of a glass ceiling. The graduates were coming in to take all the engineering management roles rather than the apprentices.”

But as Arriva invested more in the management training in their apprenticeship programs they found a shift in who, between graduates and apprentices, were most suitable for management roles:

“Because of the increasing cost of going to university, we almost expected to see a higher caliber of graduate – but that wasn’t necessarily the case. If anything, we’ve seen a drop in the caliber of graduates and better apprentices.”

With the rising cost of university fees only 1 in 20 school leavers can afford to go to university, but for those that can is it the best route or will their professional career have a stronger foundation if started through vocational training?

The growing skills gap is getting increasingly worse and with only a 1/3 of UK CEO’s recognising “filling talent gaps” as a priority for the year ahead and 70% of respondents saying they plan to increase investment in their workforce over the next three years, there needs to be more urgency in how employers are approaching this situation. Relations between businesses and academic institutions also need to be revised as it is essential that young people are taught what is relevant and valuable in the wider working world. Without this, the skills gap will continue to grow and the Economists prediction will become a reality.

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