Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century
by The Association of Graduate Recruiters
The Association of Graduate
Recruiters, established in 1968, consists of organizations which recruit and
employ university graduates, or which offer services in connection with graduate
The Association aims to
facilitate the recruitment of graduates into all spheres of employment, and
to promote good graduate recruitment practices. It also seeks to enable constructive
dialogue between employers of graduates, careers advisors, universities, government
and other organizations directly concerned with graduate recruitment.
We are highly appreciative
of the contribution by Rose Lim, Managing Director, Alpha-Maps (S) Pte Ltd (www.alpha-maps.com)
and Jonathan Winter, Managing Director, The Career Innovation Company (www.careerinnovation.com)
who helped obtained approval from The Association of Graduate Recruiters, to
release extracts from the Report: "Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century".
pace of change
Nobody in employment today, whether in the public or private sector, can afford
to be unaware of the pace of change. In business especially, the global forces
of competition, deregulation and new technology are creating the need for international
organizations that can respond rapidly to market demands.
The shape of organizations
is changing as a result: delayering, out-sourcing and the growth of multi-disciplinary
team structures are examples of changes which affect the ways people work.
It is impossible
to imagine that the skills needed at the workplace will remain the same in the
21st Century. The pace of change can be hard to judge, but it is clearly faster
than any current response. The task of this research has been to identify the
skills graduates will need, and to suggest ways they can be developed.
This could not
be achieved by asking employers which skills are most useful to them. Few companies
have taken a long hard look at the future world of work to formulate graduate
recruitment policies accordingly. At best, selection is on the basis of the
competencies of existing staff, so this research has examined the changes taking
place in graduate careers in order to predict the kinds of skills graduates
will resultantly need.
In the new world of work, careers are very different. Gone is the job for life
with its planned career structure and company training scheme. Gone too are
clear functional identities and the progressive rises in income and security.
Instead there is a world of customers and clients, adding value, lifelong learning,
portfolio careers, self-development and an overwhelming need to stay employable.
For most graduates,
the routes into employment are also changing. The sight of a large recruiter
taking on 300 graduates through the national milkround is already becoming scarce.
The milkround to graduate training schemes still exists, but traditional positions
will not absorb the vast numbers of new graduates. Instead they find themselves
facing the challenge of a small business, or in positions previously filled
by school-leavers. In even the larger companies, decentralization often means
that small company conditions exist.
In the 21st Century the most significant challenge for graduates will be to
manage their relationships with work and with learning. This requires skills
such as negotiating, action planning and networking, added to qualities of self-awareness
and confidence. These are the skills required to be "self-reliant"
in career and personal development; skills to manage processes rather than functional
skills. They are as valuable in education as in the workplace, and as valuable
to organizations as they are to individuals.
In developing these
skills there is a part to be played by students, higher education, employers
and policymakers. The research team consulted on a wide range of stakeholders,
and identified the barriers that have limited the success of previous initiatives.
Each of the barriers represent a challenge, which, if overcome, will enable
different organizations to work in partnership so that the students can develop
the skills of Self-Reliance.
In order to make full use of their skills, graduates need new opportunities
to apply them. Traditional graduate jobs will not absorb the growing numbers
of graduates. The greatest potential is likely to be in smaller businesses,
which have not tended to recruit graduates in the past. But to make this work,
small businesses will need to understand the benefits graduates can bring. Graduates
will also need to understand the labour market.
A new direction
Recommendations for action include a fundamental review of the way universities
and their staff are rewarded for teaching and learning, the inclusion and assessment
of Self-Reliance Skills (including career management) in the curriculum, and
a campaign to inform smaller businesses about the benefits of employing graduates.
Students can also take positive steps to develop their Self-Reliance Skills,
following the Action Plan presented in this Report.
The changes which are taking place in the worlds of graduate employment will
have far-reaching effects on the careers which graduates pursue - if indeed
we can still call them careers in any conventional sense.
and "de-layering" have left organisations leaner and more efficient,
with responsibility passed further down the organisation, providing satisfying
jobs for many more employees. They have also resulted in huge numbers of redundancies,
overwork for the remaining employees and destructive effects on morale. Few
graduates can be unaware of the damaging consequences of these changes - many
have seen their parents made redundant - and arguably the deepest effect on
the next generation has been the death of loyalty as a part of the employment
Drawing on discussions
with employers, graduates and academics, it has been possible to identify the
structural changes which are occurring in the graduate job market in the way
individuals approach their careers ("Changing Graduate Expectations").
These two sets of changes are altering the vocabulary of graduate careers, and
the psychological contract between graduates and employers ("Changing Graduate
The New Vocabulary
of Graduate Careers
In its immediate
effect on routes into employment for graduates, "out-sourcing" is
one of the greatest of the changes described. It has contributed to the growth
of the small business sector, and means that some of the professional roles
which graduates filled within large organisations in the past have now been
given to small consultancies or self-employed individuals.
of graduates in traditional graduate jobs
The fact is that traditional graduate jobs do still exist! But the huge increase
in the number of graduates means that, as a proportion, there are many fewer
jobs with formal graduate training programmes. AGR members recruited an estimated
80% of graduates available for work. Today the figure is 50%. Graduate expectations
have not yet caught up with this.
Reduced management hierarchies mean fewer opportunities for "vertical"
promotion. In the past there was a career ladder for graduates to ascend in
an orderly fashion. Now the opportunities for career development are more subtle,
and graduates are struggling to find them.
filling "non-graduate jobs" within large organisations It was reported
that more than two thirds of organisations indicated that they recruit graduates
to positions outside their formal scheme. In the telephone interviews, most
thought that there had been an increase in this recruitment.
in small and medium-size businesses
Small firms have played a leading role in job generation. Between 1989 and 1991,
those employers fewer than 20 people created over a million extra jobs, twice
as many as large firms. Although there are no figures available, it is likely
that this is reflected in graduate job creation. In addition, large decentralised
organisations are like SMEs, so their skill requirements are similar.
Over the last economic cycle - between 1979 and 1990 - the number of self-employed
people rose by 56% to 3.2 million, or 12% of total employment. While much of
this was in agriculture and construction, more and more professionals and skilled
workers are becoming self-employed. The computer industry is a case in point.
Some graduates are self-employed from the day they leave university.
need to cope with unemployment Around 12% of graduates in 1993 were believed
to be unemployed at December 31st. This is twice the figure in 1988, and equal
to the percentage in 1983 although the numbers are now much greater. Newspaper
headlines have regularly drawn attention to the unprecedented levels of graduate
Underemployment may already be a greater problem than unemployment. According
to an NIESR survey within the financial services industry, as many as 45% of
all graduates recruited in a recent 12 month period appear to have been deployed
in unmodified, clerical-grade jobs for which a degree was not required.
Growth and professionalisation
of voluntary and community-based sector A recent survey consulted graduates
six months after graduation. Of those looking for a job, 25% said they have
been involved in voluntary/charitable work (Guardian/Gallup). Graduate skills
are increasingly valuable in supporting the growth of this sector, and in fact
this may be one positive consequence of the high unemployment rate amongst graduates.
In examining the changes in graduate careers, the picture is not complete
without considering the changing expectations of graduates themselves.
* Aware there is
no job for life
* New focus on maintaining employability
* Decline of loyalty
* Desire for variety
* Expectation of multiple careers
* Desire for autonomy
* Desire for worthwhile work
* Desire for a balanced lifestyle
* Desire for a comfortable lifestyle
* Still expecting a graduate job
This reflects recent
research by David Cannon for Demos. Boredom is the anathema for the new generation,
and variety is the Holy Grail. So the New World of multiple careers would seem
to suit them well. Each job is seen as a stepping stone, and the top graduates
are well aware that the best way to achieve career progression is often to change
In the future most
graduates focus will be on maintaining employability, and continuing training
and development is seen as the best way to stay marketable.
The greatest gap
in graduates understanding is that so many remain unaware of the change
in the types of jobs available. This is almost certainly because it is still
the traditional graduate jobs which are widely advertised.
In the future, most graduates' focus will be on maintaining employability,
and continuing training and development is seen as the best way to stay marketable.
The greatest gap
in graduates' understanding is that so many remain unaware of the change in
the types of jobs available. This is almost certainly because it is still the
traditional graduate jobs which are widely advertised.
The changing expectations and new roles for graduates will alter the "psychological
contract" between employer and employee. This expresses what each party
wants from the employment contract and what each offers in return. It is generally
unwritten, hence the term "psychological contract". In the past graduates
have offered loyalty and skill, in exchange for the security of a stable job.
Currently, for many people, there is no greed psychological contract at all.
In the future, the new contract will be about flexibility and lifelong learning.
- No Contract
and hard work
ability to learn
and quality of life
- No Contract
productivity or long hours
high pay or good experience
1. Graduates will need to negotiate and manage their relationship with work,
including the relationship with an employer or client.
2. Graduates will need to learn, in order to be adaptable.
These new activities,
in turn, indicate the future skill requirements for graduates.
Skills - The Emerging Need
Simply asking employers what they need from graduates is not an adequate way
to predict the skills, which they will need in the future. Yet this is what
most studies have done.
vastly differing requirements, despite the similarities in language, which exists.
For example, "communication skills" will mean very different things
to a publisher and to a local government employee. This adds further confusion.
In addition, employers
requirements are usually based on past, or at best current requirements for
the jobs which graduates will initially fill. They are rarely derived from a
strategic assessment of graduates future roles within the organization.
They are also unlikely to take account of the need for skills to know when and
how to leave a job, not just to find and keep one.
enable people to manage the processes of career progression and effective learning.
As such, they enable people to develop and make use of all their other abilities.
Without the skills of Self-Reliance, other skills can be wasted. This explains
why they deserve special treatment.
must be underpinned by a knowledge of the changing world of work, because few
students will be motivated to develop the skills, which are described here if
they do not see the urgent need, which exists.
The Self-Reliant Graduate is aware of the changing world of work, takes responsibility
for his or her own career and personal development and is able to manage the
relationship with work and with learning throughout all stages of life.
Skills and Effective Learning Skills
- Able clearly
to identify skills, values, interests and other personal attributes.
- Able to pinpoint
core strengths and "differentiating factors".
- Equipped with
evidence of abilities (e.g. summary statement, record or "potential").
- Actively willing
to seek feedback from others, and able to give constructive feedback.
- Able to identify
areas for personal, academic and professional development.
- Able to define
and promote own agenda.
- Can identify
"customer needs"(academic/community/employer)and can promote own
strengths in a convincing way, both written and orally, selling "benefits"
to the "customer", not simply "features".
- Able to identify,
create, investigate and seize opportunities.
- Has research
skills to identify possible sources of information, help and support.
- Able to plan
a course of action which addresses:
*Where am I now? * What do I want to be? * How do I get there?
- Able to implement
an action plan by:
*Organizing time effectively * Identifying steps needed to reach the goal
* Preparing contingency plans
- Able to monitor
and evaluate progress against specific objectives.
- Aware of the
need to develop networks of contacts.
- Able to define,
develop and maintain a support network for advice and information.
- Has good telephone
personal priorities and constraints (internal and external)
- This includes
the need for a sustainable balance of work and home life.
- Able to match
opportunities to core skills, knowledge, values, interests etc.
- Able to make
an informed decision based on the available opportunities.
- Able to negotiate
the psychological contract from a position of powerlessness.
- Able to reach
the hidden tensions and power struggles within organizations.
- Aware of the
location of power and influence within organizations.
- Able to adapt
goals in the light of changing circumstances.
- Able to take
myraids of tiny risks.
- Committed to
preferred method and style of learning.
- Reflects on
learning from experiences, good and bad.
- Able to learn
from the mistakes of others.
- Able to apply
skills to new contexts.
- Has an underlying
confidence in abilities, based on past successes.
- Also has a personal
sense of self-worth, not dependent on performance.
There is an urgent
need for the skills of Self-Reliance. In the past they have been assumed or
neglected by both employers and high education. They cannot be neglected any
longer, and there are several factors, which summarize the reasons why these
skills are so important:
1. Career transitions
are more frequent
Jobs are less secure, and career transitions are more frequent. Even in higher
education, modularization has increased the number of choices to be made. So
the skills to mange career transitions are essential.
2. Graduates need
to manage uncertainty and change
We are frequently exhorted to achieve the impossible: to be "comfortable"
with constant change and uncertainty. Change is never comfortable. However,
there are skills, which enable people to cope with change. Some of these skills
are those which enable people to learn in order to adapt to change. Lifelong
learning is not just a 90s buzzword. It is an essential survival tactic
for the 21 st Century.
3. Knowledge rapidly
The world is changing so fast that knowledge and skills soon become obsolete.
In addition, more frequent career transitions accelerate this, making it necessary
to learn new skills and adapt to new situations. Hence the need for "effective
learning skills". Degree-based knowledge will rapidly become useless unless
a degree has also provided learning skills of the highest order.
4. Supporting structures
Organizational structures have previously supported people in their career and
personal development. Now, many of these supporting structures have disappeared.
Slimmed-down personnel departments indicate that "self development"
is the order of the day. In SMEs, few formal training and development structures
exist. The smaller the organization, the greater the need for Self-Reliance
5. Growing student-staff
The growing number of students and declining "unit of resource" mean
that some of the changes in business are mirrored in higher education. Information
technology will have a role to play in over-coming this situation, but this
can only be effective if students can become self-reliant learners. The work
of university teaching staff will then be focused on enabling learning rather
than teaching knowledge.
6. Graduates need
to be "flexible and adaptable"
The pace of change is often reflected in the demands of employers for graduates
who are "flexible and adaptable". The concept of flexibility has a
simple meaning. It is the ability to adapt and apply existing capabilities to
new situations. It is therefore, to a large degree, about the transfer of skills.
7. Graduates need
to manage their relationship with work
Professor Peter Herriot (IES) describes the graduates greatest future
challenge as "managing the relationship with work". This will include
negotiating with an employer or client, often from a position of weakness. Professional
Herriot describes the increasing number of sub-contractors and part-timers as
being at "extreme risk" of being exploited. This makes Self-Reliance,
especially negotiation skills and political awareness, even more important.
The Complete Graduate
Self-Reliance Skills are the enabling skills, which will be essential for graduates
to survive in the 21 st Century. They are the skills to manage a lifetimes
progression in learning and work, rather than to do the work itself. They are
process skills rather than functional skills.
them from the other attributes which graduates need in the workplace. The complete
graduate needs four types of skills:
Graduates must be able to manage their career and personal development (e.g.
confidence, self-awareness, action planning, political awareness).
Connected : Graduate
must be team players (e.g. management skills, meetings skills, negotiation skills,
networking skills, presentation skills).
Specialist : It
helps to be an expert at something (e.g. marketing, tax, accounting, family
law, aerospace engineering, marine biology, organizational psychology).
Generalist : Graduates
must have general business skills and knowledge (e.g. finance/basic accounting,
written communication, problem-solving, use of IT).