This essay will describe and examine how employability skills are now an essential element of undergraduate studies. I will analyse a range of skills which are essential for a student to succeed once they go into the working world. I will analyse the skills that employers look for while recruiting a graduate, and how studies undergraduate students partake in at university helps build and strengthen these skills. Being employable is the capability of getting and keeping satisfactory work. Moreover, according to Knight and Yorke (2004), employability skills are “a set of achieve-ments, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employ-ment and to be successful in their chosen occupations”.
Employability skills are also known as ‘soft skills’ and according to many articles and research carried out these are now the key skills that give graduates a competitive advantage over others. According to a survey of 198 employers, it found that 89% of British firms now demand these ‘soft skills’ as well as the degree. (Kaplan, 2014). Stuart Pedley-Smith, head of learning in the UK at Kaplan found that employers they surveyed do not recruit graduates for the subject they have a degree in, he argues that employers just see the university degree as ‘proof that graduates have recached a certain level of competence’. He found in his study that graduates that arrive with the ‘softer skills’ of communication and team working are an effective member of the team. These findings are also backed up by research carried out by NACE, this is an association that links graduates with employers, they asked 200 employers ‘what skills they prioritise when hiring grad-uates?’ and they found no matter what degree they have studied they need ‘soft skills’, they all claimed to want employees with “universal skills” (National association of colleges, 2013). There are three main skills that employers look for when recruiting graduates, these are “communica-tion, self-management and leadership” (Fallows and Steven, 2000). These three skills are in the top 10 in most research that has been carried out by associations such as NACE, RBS and Kaplan, as well as universities such as Kent and Exeter.
The main skill that is demanded by employers is communication, these are “transferable skills which can be used from one job to another” and can be used in day to day life (Foster, 1998), this is essential because communication is a critical element to any organisation and without this a business would find it difficult to operate efficiently and effectively (Richards, 2016). Therefore, it is essential that while students are carrying out their undergraduate studies they develop their employability skills. Payne and Whittaker (2000) identify three fundamental parts of communica-tion, these are verbal, non-verbal and written, organisations will be looking for these when recruit-ing graduates because they may need to write up reports on recent activities of the business and if they are unable to do this then it could cause mistakes to be made which affects the efficiency of the organisation. Also reports from the work foundation found that the long-term shift from the production to a service driven economy has made these skills ‘increasingly important’ (The Guardian, 2012). Moreover, moving into a service driven economy means that there will be more business to consumer operations, and if employees lack the communication skills needed this will make it difficult for an organisation to build a relationship with the consumer and grow in the long-term (The Guardian, 2012).
De Paulo (1992) believes it is difficult to modify non-verbal communications, however research by Peterson (2005) shows that this skill can be trained, also Soraya Pugh, the head of graduate re-cruitment consultancy freshtalent agrees with De Paulo that some skills are inherited but argues that they can also be learned (The Guardian, 2012). Universities such as Glourtishire and Exeter carry out programs that emphasise the importance of strengthening these skills, for example Exe-ter hand out handbooks at the start of each year and offer professional careers advice to under-graduate students who seek it. The University of Glourtishire also offer multiple services such as the growth hub (Growth Hub, 2018) this helps students further their knowledge through employer engagement, this also gives students a chance to work in a team with their peers, this will help develop their communication skills as well as giving them an opportunity to discover what prob-lems they may face once in the working world and how to overcome these problems.
Self-management has been listed as one of the top 10 skills required by organisations in research carried out by Kaplan, according to Rob Wall of CBI the UK is facing a gap in students skills growth, and argues that we must have a system that prepares young people for the world of work(BBC News, 2014). Self-management defines as an employee working alone or mostly alone, without needing senior managers standing over them (Foster, 1998). Problem solving also involves self-management (Cottrel, 2005), this is the skill to provide solutions to problems and provide innovative ideas (Trought, 2012). It is essential that undergraduates develop this skill be-cause if they are un-able to work alone and be productive without someone else guiding them then this is very time consuming, and if the organisation is in a market which is fast paced and needs employees to be able to work alone then it could either effect the businesses operations or the employee will not be able to stay within their role for very long. The skills required will differ depending on the hierarchy of an organisation, for example, if it is a tall hierarchy then there may not be a clear line of communication when there is a problem at hand, if this is the case then this will require the employee to create a solution to the problem themselves, however this depends on the culture of the business and whether the decisions remain at the top or if they are delegated to employees.
Programs provided during student’s undergraduate studies that help strengthen this skill are being part of group work, for example, if a problem arises during the process they should be able to analyse the problem and with this data they can help create innovate solutions, the group work can also help develop leadership skills which is also a key employability skill a recruiter will look for within graduates, moreover, it will show that they are able to work in a group as well as indi-vidually. Participating in work experience will help develop all these skills required, the university of Glourtishire ensure all students participate in a 30-hour work placement in their undergraduate studies and they also offer a year placement to students who want to in their third year. Ben Will-mott, head of public policy at the CIPD, argues the best way to developing these skills is to get work experience (The Guardian, 2012).
In conclusion, it is essential that employability skills are a key element of undergraduate studies because according to the higher education minister, David Lammy believes that “graduates need to be equipped with the right skills to succeed in the workplace, and today’s labour market is bringing home to students the need to take personal responsibility for developing the skills they need.” (BBC News, 2009). Therefore, universities offering the opportunities to develop these skills is essential and a key element to undergraduate studies, due to the shift in the global economy, it is common for employers to expect graduates to have these essential skills. This is shown in the results of a survey which included 581 recruiters, 78% of them rated employability skills as essen-tial(BBC News, 2009), this shows that employers are now actually looking for a more human touch, not just qualifications. Furthermore, the BBC director general John Longworth, argues that “firms need young people that are resilient, good communicators and understand how to work as part of a team” (BBC News, 2014). This shows that in the past it may not have been an essential part of undergraduate studies, but now it is. As Peter Hawkins (1999) says “to be employed is to be at risk, to be employable is to be secure” and developing these ‘soft skills’ allows graduates to become employable.