Being well qualified but unprepared for the realities of the world of work is proving yet another obstacle to new graduates getting into employment and achieving their career ambitions.

This was one of the key concerns to emerge from a series of major roundtable debates held earlier this year, involving business leaders, trade unions and educators. The events explored how employers, Government and individuals can best work together to challenge current thinking, drive economic growth and Unlock Britain’s Potential. The key findings of the events, hosted by Adecco, will feed into a 10-point action plan to be put to Government at a major conference in February 2012.

With youth unemployment close to record highs, addressing the mismatch between what some see as a narrow, results-driven education system and the broader life skills that employers want to see from those leaving school, college or university alongside their qualifications was considered vital in today’s highly competitive jobs market.

Says, Chris Moore, Managing Director of Adecco Group Solutions, “In this country we have one of the best education systems in the world, which is why huge numbers of international students come here to study. But we should always be looking for ways to improve and one of the key issues that delegates at our events identified was the perceived lack of focus on helping young people translate their qualifications into successful careers. There was a strong feeling that there should be much greater emphasis on ensuring students leave the education system more rounded and better prepared for the world of work.

“We are turning out world-class plumbers, engineers, fashion designers and so on. But it’s the more general business, social and life skills that we need to prioritise if candidates who look good on paper are to be taken on and to become truly successful in their career of choice.”

Julie Mercer, Partner at Deloitte, who attended the event, agrees, “If you attended a good university and obtained a good degree, there is no question that you’re probably bright enough to work for a firm such as Deloitte. But we are looking for much more than good grades so our recruitment process focuses on the wider skills, attitudes and behaviours that we believe would suggest that you’ve got the potential to become a great business advisor.”
During the discussion, delegates identified several additional areas where employability could be improved:

• Improving literacy and numeracy. Working life and demands on employees have changed dramatically over recent decades and we no longer live in a society where there are a huge number of manual jobs. Therefore, a good grasp of subjects such as English and Maths are vital for almost all roles. As Iain Murray, Senior Policy Advisor at the TUC says, “For many employers and representatives of the workforce, if you don’t acquire some of these basic skills in Maths and English you’re going to be disadvantaged in the labour market forever.”

• Fostering “emotional intelligence” among students about the behaviour expected in the world of work. This could range from developing communications skills, to helping them relate to customers or to understanding the importance of punctuality and personal appearance.

• Linking work experience more closely with study, so that young people coming into the jobs market have more to give, as well as a more realistic expectation of what will be on offer. The UK could learn from best practice in other countries which build more opportunities for a broader student experience into their curriculums.

• Re-discovering the importance of teaching work-related skills to young people, for example, how to write business letters or build confidence in public speaking.

• Encouraging independent thinkers rather than taking a “sausage machine” or results-driven approach to learning to help foster a sense of initiative and self-motivation.

Chris Moore of Adecco Group Solutions concludes, “This is a very challenging debate with a lot of important issues under the spotlight. It has been invaluable to get thought-leaders from the business, education and employee representative communities together to talk about what they would like to see change and discuss ideas for how that can be achieved. It’s a very positive first step towards informing our 10-point action plan, which we will be taking to Government early next year.”

The key findings of the Adecco Group’s roundtable events will feed into a 10-point action plan to be put to Government at a major conference in February 2012.