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Graduates lack work-ready skills that businesses need during Covid: ISE Student Development Survey


Institute of Student Employers’ (ISE) has found that graduates are lacking the workplace and technical skills that employers require.   

The ISE’s annual Student Development Survey launching at today’s (17 March 2021) Student Development Conference shows how employers have managed the development of their entry-level hires during the pandemic.  

When asked about the skills that graduates should have to work effectively, employers were generally satisfied with soft skills such as teamwork and interpersonal skills. The biggest area of concern was career management; the ability to manage your career, your boss and those around you was the skill that most employers said graduates lack. This was followed by the ability to manage up and negotiate/influence. 

With the exception of basic IT and digital skills, some employers also reported that graduates lacked the necessary technical skills they required. The areas of most concern were coding and programming, job specific technical skills and data handling and analysis. 

The lack of workplace and technical skills could be attributed to the drop in work experience opportunities.  

The overwhelming majority (78%) of employers agreed that graduates who had completed an internship or work placement were more skilled than those who had not. However, ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2020 showed that internships and placement opportunities declined 29% and 25% respectively

In comparison, only a minority (15%) agreed that those who had completed a postgraduate degree had better skills than other graduates. 

The pandemic led to employers disinvesting in graduate development – 42% of survey respondents spent less than they otherwise would have done. The main reasons for the reduction in costs were redundancies, decline in recruitment numbers, reduction in event and activity-related costs as well as cancellation of development and social programmes and international secondments.  

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at the ISE said: “In the past employers have talked about graduates lacking soft skills, but in the current environment, business is up against a wall and so they need people who can start work at pace. With many people home working there’s also more emphasis on being self-reliant. Right now, businesses need graduates who can start work, manage their relationships effectively and have the technical skills to do the job.  

“These employers have always invested heavily in graduate development, but running activities has become more difficult. Spending is falling, so the focus is on finding people who are a bit more ready to start work and we expect these trends to continue as we start to enter a post covid world.  

“With graduates’ ability to be ready for work decimated by the shortage of practical work experience, employers need to find ways to work with educators to offer opportunities. It’s important that the significant disinvestment in graduate development isn’t long-term. Employers need to invest in their entry-level talent to get best out of them.” 

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