8th January 2017

Oven-readiness: Whose job is it to make graduates employable?

Background to this post:

I am heading to the US in December to speak at the College Recruiting Bootcamp in Washington DC ( http://www.exaqueoevents.com/) and was asked to write a post on employer expectations of graduates. The post below is an anglicised version of one that went up on the College Recruiter site a few weeks back.

Whose job is it to make graduates employable?

It feels like there is an ever growing consensus among employers that university graduates should emerge fully formed, perfectly skilled and immediately work ready (just put ‘graduates should be work ready’ into Google and look at the fun). The phrase ‘oven ready’ graduates appears far too often for my liking and tends to oversimplify what is ultimately a very complicated issue – how do you match the supply of skills/people with the demands of the economy, when both are moving targets?

This is seen as such a significant issue in the UK that the government has created a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ for universities, which includes as one of its goals, tackling skills mismatches in the economy. The fact that the same Government is simultaneously reducing the UK’s access to skilled talent via Brexit-fuelled immigration clampdowns is an irony apparently lost on them.

At the macro-economic level skills anticipation and matching is fraught with challenges (see my piece on this from a few weeks ago http://bit.ly/2gcSOB8) However, when we zoom this in to an individual employer our response and advice is heavily dependent on circumstances, so the key is effectively diagnosing what the real problem is. This up-front investment in understanding employers’ needs tends to pay off in better hiring results at the end. Generally we start by asking questions that examine the fundamental approach taken to hiring by the employer:

  1. How recently did you evaluate what is really important in the people you hire?
  2. What characterises the hires you make that are successful, and those that are not?
  3. What is the most critical factor for fit with your organisation – skills, values, attitude etc?
  4. If all the evidence says that those people are not available for that price in this place, which one of those variables are you prepared/able to change?

Answers to these questions allow us to better understand the employer, and then tailor a recruitment approach for that situation.

The challenge that most often happens is that we are approached by employers particularly seeking candidates in skills shortage areas. This is typically around digital and software roles where there is a major disconnect between employer requirements and the quality and quantity of graduates available.

In this context we encourage employers (and policy makers who are trying to solve these problems at a city/regional level) to try one of the following:

Grow your own:

This is the long game, but often one of the most successful approaches if you have the time. Fine graduates who have the core attributes or values that suit your organisation, but need skills development, then put in place structured training to develop them. This could be in house training, or delivered under emerging models such as degree-apprenticeships.

Think differently:

Stop looking at the really obvious candidates. This could be described as the Blue Ocean approach, getting away from where everyone else is fishing. Recently I saw a very interesting post from a company called Talla (based in Boston and San Francisco) on mapping CVs using neural networks. This visual approach helps you to appreciate that people who superficially have seemingly different backgrounds are actually remarkably similar. Each of the dots below is a resume, and shows how, different role titles share characteristics:

Up the budget:

In some situations the employer simply needs to either increase the attraction budget to reach a wider audience, or increase salary to draw in the necessary skills. Whilst never ideal, there are clearly certain economic realities that are hard to escape, and we aim to keep highly focused and relevant labour market information to hand at all times to allow us to advise effectively in this area.

Underlying all of this is a bigger societal question, which will be answered differently in different countries:

Whose job is it to make a person employable?

Is it the role of the education system and teachers, employers, parents, the state more broadly, or the individual. Clearly all play a part, but the prevailing national/local answer to this question goes a long way to deciding the expectations employers have of graduates and vice versa.

Look forward to discussing this and lots of other topics around college recruiting at the Bootcamp.

Martin Edmondson

CEO - Gradcore