Why undergrads must ‘be on their toes’ to develop the right job skills
Generally, UK university degree programmes aim to loosely develop the key skills required for industry and so on completion of an undergraduate course, students should attain a core set of job skills to a minimum level. It is this minimum area of skill level that often presents areas of conflict between what graduates know and can do, and what employers require.
Some employers see an undergraduate degree as a certificate of general competence in a broad range of skills. Hence, it can be very frustrating (for both sides) when new graduates appear to be lacking in basic job skills they have failed to develop along the way.
Again, employers would expect the literacy and numeracy of undergrads to be at a certain level. In a few cases, an excellent understanding of the subject studied is a must, for example, some companies will want a strong academic performance in chemistry as a subject if you are going to work in their pharmaceutical departments.
However, speaking more generally from feedback and with those working in this industry for over 20 years, many undergraduates still struggle to attain the following job skills:
Job skill 1). Conflict Resolution, Crisis Management and general problem solving.
Employers increasingly look for undergraduates who will apply initiative where permitted to professionally resolve day-to-day problems or complaints raised by customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. This requires a person to approach problems as opportunities to learn rather than as inconvenient distractions or obstacles. A healthy approach to problem solving will help a graduate to develop the mental and practical skills needed in this highly important area.
Job skill 2). Confidently dealing with colleagues at all levels of the organisation.
Employers would like new undergraduates to engage more with all staff. In some cases, new undergraduates will have the opportunity to engage directly with the chief executive officer, the president or company directors to exchange and share their ideas. New undergraduates must be ready and prepared for this. They also need to relate and communicate well with people of all backgrounds and profiles.
Job skill 3). Developing their professionalism and maturity especially in the workplace.
New undergraduates should aim to develop excellence in their effort and attitude towards work. This means seeking to see, where possible, they can ‘raise the bar’ in refining their professionalism and maturity. I am not saying this doesn’t happen already, but some new graduates see it as ‘just a job’ which they have to do and are not aiming for excellence or quality. They do not look for opportunities to do more than the basic task required. This is a matter that disturbs employers and causes problems with colleagues. Employers are increasing looking for employees who will represent them well.
Job skill 4). Project management (the confident and effective use of resources, including time, finance, products / services) to implement small to medium projects.
Employers would like to see greater potential in new undergrads to manage resources so they can comfortably delegate projects and assignments to them. This will give employees an opportunity to shine and give new undergraduates a greater exposure to the business as a whole.
Generally, businesses want to clearly see where an individual can use their job skills to add value.
Most professionals working in this area think there needs to be more preparation for undergraduates before entering the workplace. Industry is a commercially dynamic and intense place and most don’t believe students are fully aware of this. They need to be ‘on their toes’ and be ready to apply themselves and their skills expertly.
Probably, this needs to be reflected more in the university assessments or dealt with using business / industry workshops. Undergraduates need to find ways to ‘hit the ground running’ and start looking into their career options well before graduating to minimise long periods of joblessness.
*This article was co-written with Anna Taylor, an Educational Mentor who helps undergrads achieve success at university.