Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Funding the Skills Gap: What Industry Can do to Help Graduates

This Post is Brought to you by Talal Rajab and Originally Appeared on the Industry and Parliament Blog

With more graduates taking low-skilled jobs, the topic of how industry and higher education can address the shortage of industry skills amongst graduates is an important issue.  Many young graduates today are finding it difficult to find employment as they lack the necessary skills that many businesses are looking for. 

The Industry and Parliament Trust brought together an array of parliamentarians, industry leaders and university vice chancellors for a frank and open discussion  on how businesses and higher education can work together to address this problem.  Although there was a general agreement around the table that a ‘skills gap’ existed amongst British graduates, there was debate about what these skills actually were and what industry itself could do to help ensure that the needs of British businesses were being met by higher education. 

Despite the disagreements, the lack of a coherent policy on language skills appeared to be the prevailing issue as to why British students suffered in the global jobs market. In today’s globalised world, the ability to communicate effectively in multiple languages sets certain candidates apart from others and, in turn, becomes a factor for businesses.  Despite this, it was felt that universities were not doing enough to ensure that their students were proficient in certain key languages, whereas international students studying in the UK were expected to speak multiple languages regardless of what course they were studying.  With many opportunities for UK plc to expand, proficiency in certain key languages amongst British students is something that universities will have to address in the coming years. 

Other skills that were identified to be lacking amongst graduates were the presentational, communication and cross-cultural skills that are essential in the workforce today.  Although much work is being done within universities to address this shortage, much more can be done to ensure that British graduates leave with the essential skills to enhance their career. Industry itself can help in this regard, with positive input into the design of a course going some way to ensure that the skills businesses require from graduates are being met. 

A second theme to emerge from the discussions was the lack of dedicated career advisers in schools and FE colleges.  This has resulted in many students graduating from university without either a clear idea of what they want to do or the awareness of the multitude of opportunities available.  This represents another clear opportunity for businesses to help schools and FE colleges by increasing school visits by local professionals and fostering a greater relationship between schools and industry.

A third theme was the trouble many SME’s face in attracting top graduates as the best and brightest students tend to be snapped up by larger companies.  Again, greater working relationships between SMEs and higher education would be beneficial.  Whilst on-campus graduate recruitment is dominated by larger companies, SMEs can offer a wide array of opportunities for enterprising graduates at a time when competition for graduate programmes is as high as ever.  Addressing this problem and forging more partnerships between SMEs and FE colleges, for example, is crucial to ensuring that SMEs do not suffer from a lack of bright, enthusiastic graduates.    

The issue of how industry and higher education can work together to ensure that graduates have the necessary skills businesses are looking for is one that will remain an important topic for many years to come.  What is clear however, is that a closer relationship between education and industry will ensure that British students have the right skills and that business will benefit from a brighter, skilled and industry aware work-force. 

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