Graduates lack 'real world' skills

November 7, 1997

Employers at the Confederation of British Industry's conference have their say on graduate requirements

Expecting universities to respond to the demands of employers may be asking too much since their expectations of graduates are so diverse.

Philip Horn, head of graduate employment at Asda, more than received 8,000 applications for graduate jobs this year. Most were "way off" the company's requirements, and he made 110 job offers.

"The standard of some graduates' English is appalling. This could so easily be addressed if the universities included a bit more commercial awareness in their courses, some sense of the real world," he said.

But at nearby Leeds law firm Walker Morris, Paul Emmett, head of trainee solicitor recruitment, does not believe the function of universities is to prepare students for the commercial world.

"We train our recruits from scratch in everything but the general principles of the law. The compulsory vocational part of a solicitor's training is regarded by most firms as of limited value because each organisation has such different requirements," he said.

Selection procedures at Asda are tough. The company works closely with both Leeds universities on skills training projects that Mr Horn hopes will eventually be accredited as part of most undergraduate degree programmes. "If we get this right then everyone - particularly the small and medium size enterprises - will benefit," he said.

Glass manufacturer Pilkingtons targets ten top universities around the country to find its 30 graduate recruits each year. Graduate recruitment manager Debbie Bibby finds the company struggles to get engineers of the right quality because the technical degree courses are being "diluted" with add-ons such as language options.

At Coopers and Lybrand, student recruitment manager Kerrith Harris said students were a lot more clued up than they were four or five years ago. All the big chartered accountancy firms were looking for the same sort of recruit and the really good ones will have more than one offer.

Coopers takes 80 graduates in the North each year from about 800 applications. Most successful candidates hold non-relevant degrees and the firm has noticed a distinct shift in expectation.

"They know they must have been involved in extracurricular activities and be able to talk about them sensibly," Ms Harris said.

"On the whole we find the quality of applicants is pretty good."

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