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Business / Graduate Divide: Are Poor ‘People Skills’ Stifling UK Graduates?


New research from global management consultancy Hay Group reveals the challenges UK organisations face in sourcing graduates with the right people skills to succeed in today’s workplace. Over three quarters (77%) of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development* believe they have had to employ graduates without the necessary people skills due to a lack of choice. Indeed, the majority of respondents (90%) are of the opinion that fewer than half of graduate applicants have sufficient people skills for the roles they are applying for.

People skills continue to grow increasingly important for businesses, as globalisation accelerates and organisational structures change. In this context, 93% percent of those surveyed believe employees with strong people skills deliver better commercial impact.

Such beliefs, however, are not echoed by today’s graduates**. In fact, 70% believe that, in order to succeed, they just need to be good at their job, with over half (51%) feeling that people skills actually get in the way of getting the job done. As it stands, 61% of today’s graduates believe that technical skills are more important than people skills at work.

“It’s not that today’s graduates lack potential,” clarifies David Smith, Consultant, Hay Group. “In fact, psychometric assessment specialist Talent Q analysed data of over 40,000 employees worldwide and found that graduates have as much potential as senior managers for self-awareness, self-control and teamwork, and more potential for empathy. This potential needs to be realised, however. It’s now down to organisations to recruit and develop graduates in the right way, so they appreciate the role these ‘softer’ skills play in their own development and the value they offer to the business.”

The Hay Group research also explored the business implications of this gap in people skills:

Immediate cost: The average cost for on-boarding per graduate is between £500-1000. With 77% of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development believing that graduates are not prepared for the world of work, the potential amount of wasted investment in recruitment processes and high staff turnover is significant.

Future leadership: 91% of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development believe that the employees who do not develop good people skills will be ineffective future leaders. More than three quarters (77%), based on the people skills of their current graduates, are concerned for the future of leadership in their organisation.

People development: The research shows a clear divide between graduate expectations around promotions and the reality. The majority (89%) of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development believe poor people skills hold graduates’ progression back, although 68% of graduates are confident they will succeed in their organisation regardless of their people skills. Consequently, 45% of graduates expect to be promoted within their first six months of starting a job, whereas the reality (according to those in charge of graduate recruitment and development) sees just 17% being promoted in this timeframe.

Efforts are being made to address the imbalance in people skills. 91% of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development believe their business provides adequate training to develop the people skills of graduates. In fact, 83% state their managers spend more time training graduates on working effectively in a team than on technical skills. This ‘on the job’ method of training was cited by over half (55%) of graduates as their preferred approach to learning. Businesses recognise there’s no quick-fix, however; 62% believe it can take between six months and two years for graduates to develop the necessary people skills to deliver productively for the organisation.

“Managing graduate expectations is essential: businesses must show graduates that, even if they’re not getting a promotion this time, their company is investing in them and they’re getting the training to progress further,” continues Smith. “It’s also about making the process as seamless for the employee and business as possible. Today there are tools such as smartphone applications and personality self-assessments to help organisations engage and develop graduates, to assist them with their own progression and job satisfaction, and to enable them to meet and exceed business leaders’ expectations.”