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Positive news on graduate skills – CBI skills survey

Kathleen Henehan

Kathleen Henehan

Former ​Policy Analyst
Universities UK

This morning saw the publication of the 2016 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey, and the findings are very encouraging for graduates.

The survey, conducted from nearly 500 employers who together employ more than 3.2 million people, illustrates a robust demand for graduate-level skills that is projected to continue over the coming years.

91% of surveyed employers reported either maintaining or expanding their graduate recruitment over the past year; in fact, 29% increased their graduate intake as compared to just 9% who decreased it, producing a net balance of +20%. Looking out towards the next three to five years, 77% plan to grow their number higher-skilled job openings, as compared to just 3% who expect fewer (net balance of +74%); for intermediate and low-skilled employees these figures are +42% and -6%, respectively.

Of course, rising demand for highly-skilled people does not necessarily imply smooth sailing for all students and graduates. The survey shows that businesses look for more than university attended or degree classification attained. According to the CBI/Pearson report, the most important factors that employers consider when recruiting graduates are attitudes and aptitudes for work (reported by 87% of employers), relevant work experience (67%) and degree subject (65%, particularly more important for businesses in the manufacturing, engineering and high-tech sectors).

Most employers report being satisfied or very satisfied with their graduates' attitudes, relevant work experience and skills: satisfaction with graduates' numeracy was 91%, technical skills 88% and literacy 86%. Moreover, 81% reported being satisfied with graduates' positive attitudes to work, 70% were satisfied with graduates' self-management and resilience, and 67% with their relevant work experience.

Research currently being undertaken as part of Universities UK's programme on higher-level skills, indicates that universities are increasingly developing innovative strategies to provide students with integrated academic, extra-curricular and work-related opportunities and advice that will hold enduring value in the labour market.

Presciently, the CBI/Pearson report picks up on this issue when noting that the Higher Education and Research Bill, undergoing a second reading today, could help provide prospective students and employers with a better understanding of teaching quality and employment outcomes, incentivise greater university-businesses collaboration on course design, and boost the quality of careers advice.

Universities UK, in its response to a consultation on the Teaching Excellence Framework, a component of the bill, similarly highlighted the legislation's potential for both illustrating outcomes and good practice, while noting that is critical for this information to be presented in way that is clear and meaningful to students and that the legislation serves to respect the diversity of the UK university sector and encourage pedagogical diversity and innovation.

As the report says, 'universities have made impressive ground with employers, with most university leavers not only meeting business expectations, but often exceeding them'. We look forward to continued progress in this area and welcome the news for today's graduates. ​

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