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59% of students and graduates think developing workplace skills is down to them

A new study from skills self-help specialist My Performance Pitstopshows a stark undergraduate & lsquo;reality gap’ persists with current students being overly optimistic about their career prospects and how well universities are preparing them for the workplace. My Performance Pitstop warns that an unmerited level of faith in the power of a degree could put current and future students at risk if they fail to develop workplace skillsalongside their studies.

86% of current students rated their university highly in wanting to prepare them for work, with 34% scoring their university a first class nine or 10 in their employability focus. 84% of current students also think employers value their degree above work experience. 100% of undergraduates said university is the best route to improve job prospects.

In bleak contrast, the picture from graduates shows reality sinking in. One in three rate their university a failing five or less for their interest in preparing students for work. A third (30%) realise employers look beyond their degree, and are also keen to see how students develop skills through their Gap year and work experience. Graduates were also more attuned to the fact that in addition to superior analytical and problem-solving ability, employers look for confidence, communication skills, work ethic, self-sufficiency and independence when making a hire. Not surprisingly, around one in eight graduates are questioning whether university is the best way to a great career.

However, most undergraduates and graduates (59%) think developing work-related skills is really down to them - only 29% think it’s up to employers to train them.

In order to help students and recent graduates develop the vital workplace skillswhich they will need to get on the career ladder, My Performance Pitstop has drawn on the knowledge of HR experts with over 40 years’ experience of working with major corporates to bridge the skills gap. The company has created a series of simple to use development guides to help candidates quickly acquire vital workplace skillsat very low cost. These include how to get a job, time management, presentationand communication skills. 

Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the AGR, says“These days a good degree is not enough to guarantee a graduate a decent job. Nor does a degree, by itself, prepare the graduate for the demands of the world of work in the 21st century. I am the first to acknowledge the growing emphasis in our universities to improve the employability of students. The challenge is to get the students to treat their own employability seriously. The excuse of “If only I’d known” will not wash any more. Employers have high expectations of the graduates they recruit including skills, knowledge and understanding of business, and the ability to take control of their own learning and career.“

Overall, graduates gave a “thumbs-up” to work experience as the most useful way to acquire skills (55%), above training in the workplace (26%). What is learnt at school or university is seen as more marginal: only 11% of graduates rated this as the best way to develop skills. This compares to 41% of idealistic undergraduates, who believe study is the best preparation for work.

Samantha Fox, CEO of My Performance Pitstop. warns that today’s students may only be preparing themselves for disappointment if they place too much faith in their degree: “Perhaps university degrees should have some sort of disclaimer, like financial investment products: the value of this degree course may go up or down depending on prevailing market conditions. Students today are still very optimistic about how much value employers will place on their degree, an optimism which is not borne out once they start to look for a job.

“Graduates need to wake up to the fact that it’s up to them to develop the skills which they need for the job - and it’s good to see many already do. The majority of businesses that I work with are cutting costs and focusing on the absolute minimum which their employees need to be effective in their job. The emphasis has shifted completely away from training and development as an employee retention tool, or to develop a more rounded employee base. This is especially true in the early years when a graduate enters the workplace. Many companies know that graduates will often quickly move from one job to the next, so they are trimming training costs to a minimum at this level. Graduates will need to take responsibility for building the skills which their next job will demand if they want to ensure they progress up the ladder.” 

The student road map for universities

Respondents to the survey identified several opportunities for those universities wishing to help students become more employable, from providing better indication of how different degree courses will lead to a job to compulsory training in workplace skills such as giving presentations and time management. This shows that current students and graduates see scope for university becoming a more rounded development ground for their skills, in particular by introducing mandatory training in core workplace skills such as time management into the curriculum (22%).


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