Overwhelming majority leaving university with employability skills, but ‘big question mark’ hangs over whether they will get jobs

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Research published today (23 January 2012) by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) reveals that more than 80% of students who completed three-year degrees felt that they had the skills employers sought, but 84% felt that it was more difficult than ever to find work.

Futuretrack* is tracking more than 50,000 students from UCAS application until two years after graduating. The third stage of the research surveyed how third year students felt about their readiness for the world of work.

It found that while 10% believed that the skills they developed on their course had not made them more employable and 6% said they didn’t possess the skills employers sought, almost three quarters felt that the overall university experience had made them more employable, and more than 80% said it had enhanced their social and intellectual capabilities.

Students felt increasingly confident about their skills as they progressed through university. Interestingly, men rated their skills higher than women, although their achievement levels suggest that this reflects greater confidence than, necessarily, higher skills. Students who had developed high numeracy skills were significantly more confident about finding a job than history, philosophy, creative arts and mass communication students.

Futuretrack also revealed a discrepancy between what employers look for and what skills students think will be valued by recruiters. Students ranked commercial awareness, numeracy and computer literacy low with softer skills such as communication and work ethic at the top of the list.

When questioned about their confidence in the labour market, only 36% thought that it would be easy for them to find the job they wanted and almost half (41%) were unconfident or uncertain on their prospects. However, two-thirds said that they were optimistic about their career long-term.

Jane Artess, research director at HECSU says: “Students were more likely to believe that they had skills employers were looking for than they were to believe the skills they developed on their course had made them more employable, reflecting a realistic evaluation of the current economic climate.

“There is a big question mark over how quickly new graduates will find work; the graduate labour market continues to be tough and it will not be easy, particularly for those who lack employability skills. We urge graduates to seek advice from their university careers services as soon as possible.”

Kate Purcell, who leads the research at the University of Warwick says: “What Futuretrack has shown us is that despite positive views about skills development, overall satisfaction with the university experience and the high probability that students would choose the same course again, they lacked confidence about being able to find graduate jobs in the immediate future”

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