PhDs fail to sell their skills to employers

January 12, 2007

Postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers are failing to make employers aware of their skills, according to analysis carried out by the UK Grad programme.

UK Grad presented a new meta-analysis of employers' perceptions of researchers' skills at the 2007 Roberts Policy Forum in Manchester this week.

It found that employers fell into three categories. The first group recruit postgraduates and postdocs because they prize their detailed knowledge and analytical training. The other two groups make no distinction between postgrads and postdocs, and normal graduates or refuse to recruit them because they imagine they will be too narrowly focused.

Janet Metcalfe, director of UK Grad, said: "There is a schism between what employers think PhDs bring and the skills they actually have but are unable to communicate to employers.

"Academia could do more to support researchers to be more aware of the broader opportunities and the need to be able to know and articulate their skills."

The Government gave research councils just underJ£23 million for skills training in the science budget in the 2002 spending review following the Roberts report. The analysis was intended to set a benchmark to evaluate whether researchers that receive this training money are in a better position in the future.

"PhDs are so small a cohort in the employment market it's hard to get anything quantitative. We can gather researchers' perceptions of what difference Roberts has made," Dr Metcalfe said.

At the meeting, the working group evaluating skills development for young researchers called on Research Councils UK to fund a trial survey of the way researchers and academics have taken up the skills agenda.

The group, known as the Rugby Team after the location of their inaugural meeting, called for RCUK to agree a format for university reports on how they use the money they receive for skills training. Future RCUK and Higher Education Statistics Agency surveys of the career destinations should include all postgraduate researchers, not just those funded by the research councils, it said.

Ellen Pearce, UKGrad manager, said skills remained a critical agenda for the Government. "A few years into the enhanced provision spearheaded by the Roberts Review, we are seeing a greater emphasis on skills such as innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship," she said.

"Sustained funding beyond the Comprehensive Spending Review is key to being able to continue to support the development of these higher level skills."

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