'Nous' test faces test of credibility

February 28, 1997

The launch next month of the Graduate Employability Test will meet with much scepticism from educationists, higher education careers services and graduate employers, it has emerged. The test's creators claim that they have established a national employability benchmark.

GET Developments plc, the educationists' consortium behind the new "graduates' nous test", will launch its employability test on March 10. The commercial consortium claims the test will narrow the growing gap between a diversified mass higher education market and a disenchanted graduate employers' sector.

The test, claims GET, will examine and illustrate essential employability skills no longer guaranteed by a degree: communication skills, foreign language proficiency, information technology skills and industrial knowledge. It will also include some psychometric testing.

The "nous test" will be voluntary, and made available electronically to final-year undergraduates for Pounds 85 plus VAT a time in 50 regional test centres. GET Developments expects a high take-up rate from the 350,000 annual output of job-seeking graduates. Car manufacturer Mercedes and travel firm Club 21 have already made the test compulsory for its graduate job applicants, and high-profile public relations guru Sophie Rhys-Jones has been drafted in for a high-impact marketing campaign.

But criticism of the test is mounting. Devised over three years by GET Developments director and Brunel University teaching development project director Jonathan Brill, it was "anchored in research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters", said Mr Brill.

But AGR chief executive Roly Cockman has distanced himself from the project. "We were involved in the early stages but dropped out when it became a commercial venture," said Mr Cockman. "We are very concerned that if they are charging students it is seen to be value for money. Some of the more esoteric graduate attributes are very hard to test. Obviously we are looking with interest, because it is a new concept in graduate recruitment, but we wouldn't endorse it until we're sure it is supported by our members and the universities."

The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, which has been linked to the project, is also hesitant. "We have not given it any support," said an AGCAS source who did not wish to be named, "but it's got some big names behind it so I'm not saying any more."

Educationists have also expressed concern. Lee Harvey, lead author of the University of Central England's Graduate's Work survey, said: "It only deals with the more surface measurable things. It doesn't seem to get to the heart of what employers want."

Mr Brill insists his test is credible. Its computing section was devised by the National Computing Centre, the business awareness unit was developed with the Business and Technology Education Council and the industrial psychologists Saville and Holdsworth supervised the formulation of the psychometric and communication skills tests, he points out.

"If it was just about a quick and flashy money-making exercise," said Mr Brill, "then we wouldn't have been in the area for the last two or three years."

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