Is your university helping or hindering your job prospects?

Sep 6, 2013

It may sound odd but your university could be hindering your job prospects if it isn’t teaching you how to get a job.

If you are like the 79% of graduates surveyed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) a few years ago you will have gone to university for one reason: to improve your chances of getting a good job. So why is teaching good job skills so overlooked by universities?

Most universities are great at helping students to organise work placements and access industry specific career advice, but comparatively few are effective at helping new graduates develop the skills they need to compete for graduate level jobs.

In a nutshell, it leaves graduates falling short of employers’ expectations. 70% of employers think that graduates come to them ill equipped for the workplace. Graduates have very little in the way of skills and awareness around areas like customer awareness, team working and self management, which employers prize above a degree. Employers will not employ you without experience in these non academic areas.

A few months ago a national survey carried out by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), based at the Institute of Education, showed that across the job market there are now more entry level posts requiring degrees than ever before as employers seek out better qualified workers.

So more jobs for graduates – yet more graduates than ever unemployed, around one in five according to the latest figures from ONS.

Graduates don’t measure up

It’s an anomaly that requires urgent attention because

  1. The graduate jobs market is very competitive: competition for graduate jobs is intense and increasing with, as we have seen, up 160 chasing one job, 7.3% still unemployed six months after leaving university and 36% giving up hope of ever finding graduate level employment and settling for just any job.
  2. Employers want graduates who are employable: employability skills are the single most important consideration for employers when recruiting graduates. In fact 82% of employers say this and believe that graduates need to pro-actively develop relevant employability skills.
  3. Graduates want help to become employable: the graduates interviewed in the CBI research also believe they struggle to get graduate level jobs because they are ill prepared for the jobs market. Of the 2,614 surveyed, 66% want more help to develop these skills and 57% want that help to come from their universities.

As a result the CBI has been calling on all universities to do more both to explain and embed the teaching of employability skills into course structures. Working with the National Union of Students (NUS), the business support think tank developed a guide to show how these skills can be gained aside from university coursework, such as by participating in societies, volunteering and doing work experience.

Aaron Porter, NUS National President, said: ‘Access to higher education opens the doors to a world of possibility but it is incumbent on universities to do more to equip their students to face the challenges the future brings.’

So what’s your university doing to assist you to get ready for the workplace and to compete against other graduates? This should be one of the questions that you ask when considering which university to go to. If it isn’t offering much in the way of teaching you about employability skills like customer services, business awareness, enterprise, self management, and problem solving, then it isn’t really helping your career at all.

If you are already at university and yours isn’t doing much, complain loudly.

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