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Schools essential to closing skills gap

Article by: Stephen Isherwood | Published: 18 March 2017

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) Student Development Survey reports that the development of soft skills needs to start at school, leaving it to universities and employers is too late. Comment from Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the AGR.

The report1 revealed that half (49 percent) of employers think that graduates don’t have the skills expected of them at the point of hiring. On average they reported that a quarter of their graduate intake are lacking essential soft skills. For nine out of 10 key soft skills, employers said that the best time to learn them is outside of university2. Sixty one per cent of employers agreed that they need to work closer with schools to help close the skills gap. Secondary school is commonly perceived as the best place to learn self-awareness, problem solving, interpersonal skills and teamwork in particular.

Employers supplement skills development at school and university by delivering around 10 days of soft skills training. The workplace was commonly perceived as the best place to learn to manage-up, deal with conflict, negotiate and develop commercial awareness. Resiliency was the only skill employers felt was best developed at university. Most employers think that the majority of key employability skills can be learnt within a year. While skills gaps could be quick to close with targeted action, 51 percent of employers said that co-ordination is needed to identify common gaps.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the AGR said: “Skills work needs to start early. Leaving it just to universities and employers is too late. We need to see more emphasis on co-ordinated development across schools, universities and businesses rather than expecting higher education to take all of the brunt for preparing graduates for work. “By the time students reach university and employment essential employability skills should be ingrained, so it’s just a matter of refinement. A focus on soft-skills will develop better students, more productive employees and more engaged citizens.”