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The employability of higher education graduates: the employers’ perspective

21 Feb 2014

A study was released today on the employability of higher education graduates from an employers’ perspective. The study, conducted out of Maastricht University School of Business, surveyed more than 900 employers in nine different European countries. The following are the key characteristic and skills that employers look at when recruiting higher education graduates:

 

1.Professional expertise is paramount


The most important skills set that affects graduates’ employability is professional expertise (i.e. subject-specific knowledge and expert thinking). However, many employers also recognised that University general curriculum does not always develop industry specific knowledge.

 

2.Interpersonal skills are becoming more and more important


In order to be employable, the graduate must demonstrate good interpersonal skills. (communication skills, teamwork skills et cetera) A graduate with poor interpersonal skills may have negative consequences to the team and by extension the organisation overall.

 

3.Work experience gets graduates the job interview


The study actually found that relevant work experience can compensate for having lower grades or a field of study that does not neatly fit the graduate role. While work experience is not a “deal-clincher,” the study found a strong correlation between relevant work experience and invitations to a job interview.

 

4. Room for Specialisation: innovative/creative and commercial/entrepreneurial skills


Employers require their graduates to have at least an average level of professional expertise and interpersonal skills. On the other hand, there is less expectation that graduates will be steeped in innovation or entrepreneurial know-how. This is because just one or two persons in a team or organisation, who are strong in these domains, is sufficient. Nevertheless, there is clear room for specialisation among the graduates and is considered a considerable value-add.

 

5. Looking ahead: Strategic/organisational skills

Employers recognise that graduates will not necessarily have strong knowledge or skill in these areas. However, in terms of the graduates’ long-term career opportunities, these skills are analogous to growth in the role. 


6. International orientation is a feather in the cap if the cap fits


Graduates need to be internationally orientated in the global market that most companies now operate in. Employers look favourably upon foreign experience, but it does not trump relevant work experience and field of study. Experience, however, does not necessarily mean study abroad: employers like some study abroad, but prefer graduates with degrees from their own country. This may be related to unfamiliarity with the qualification or perceived differences in quality


7. General academic are considered Well Developed

There is an expectation amongst employers that graduates would have already developed sufficient general academic skills. It therefore does not rank highly on the employers selection criteria.  

 

8.No difference in what is needed for short-term employability and long-term employability

The question posed here was what different skills-sets were needed to ensure an entry ticket to the labour market and longer-term employability. Employers indicated that there is no distinction between the two: The skills that are needed to ensure short-term employability are no different from the skills that are needed to increase employability in the long run.


9.The High Cost of Underperformance

 

The study found that high-performing graduates were 10-15% more productive than average graduates. On the other hand, underperforming graduates tended to be 20-30% less productive than average graduates. This shows that the costs related to underperformance of graduates is much higher than the possible benefits associated with above average performance. Employers therefore look for good skill-levels in all domains, and hence why traditional signals counted (e.g. the study programme, the reputation of the University, and the grades).

 

10. Time is precious, so spend it well

The study found that developing high quality graduates means finding the right balance between a well-developed set of core skills (e.g. professional skills and interpersonal skills) and skills that lend themselves for specialisation (e.g. entrepreneurial and innovation skills). Students are not expected to enter their graduate role with a high level of specialised skills, but it can be simulated through university. Therefore, the development of high-quality relevant curricula is key: Students’ time is precious, so it must be spent well.

 

 

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