Is career readiness in decline?

May 1, 2024 | Development, Home Featured, Research

ISE’s Student Development Survey shows a widening gap between student education and employer skills needs.

ISE’s Student Development Survey takes a deep dive into the skills graduates possess when they enter employment, whether they meet expectations and those employers tend to develop as part of a role.

This year’s findings reveal career readiness is declining among graduates as well as school and college leavers, with particular challenges among younger workers.

Career readiness in decline

We asked employers if they agreed that new hires were career ready at the point of hire. Overall, about half of employers (49%) strongly agreed or agreed that graduates were career ready at the point of hire, however this is a decrease from 54% in 2023.

In comparison, school and college leavers tend to be less ready to hit the ground running – only 25% of employers strongly agreed or agreed that school and college leavers were ready at the point of hire, compared to 39% in 2023.

This suggests that there are significant gaps between college education and workplace requirements in today’s rapidly changing world.

School and college leavers are likely to be younger, have less life and work experience than graduates, which will limit their career readiness. But such discrepancies might also be attributed to evolving technological advancements, changing industry standards, and the dynamic nature of skill demands.

What are employers’ biggest concerns?

The areas where employers are most likely to have concerns about in graduates are self-awareness and resilience.

Compared to last year, more employers reported that graduates did not meet their expectations in resilience (37% in 2024; 30% in 2023) and self-awareness (43% in 2024; 35% in 2023). That said, most employers reported developing these attributes as part of development programmes.

Compared to graduates, employers expect less from school and college leavers at the time of hiring.

The biggest areas of concerns are resilience (35% respondents reported that less than expected and 25% in 2023), time management (34% respondents reported that less than expected) and self-awareness (31% respondents reported that less than expected).

While there are concerns, more broadly, early career hires mostly met the expectations of employers and there were some skills they were particularly prepared to develop.

For example, employers did not expect recruits to have existing coding and programming skills (39% in graduates; 47% in school and college leavers) nor data analysis (12% in graduates; 32% in school and college leavers).

This aligns with the increasing emphasis of employers on hiring for potential and the ability to build skills, a strategy that is becoming more pertinent as the rapid pace of change in technology now means that what students learn during their academic studies might be obsolete by the time they start work.

You can read the full skills analysis – including attitudes and behaviours, workplace skills, technical and analytical skills and awareness of the wider context – in ISE’s Student Development Survey.

Long-term investment

To achieve broad talent and skills requirements, there is a need for long term investment in relationships with educators, particularly schools and colleges.

ISE’s report Forging Stronger Bonds: Redefining Employer-School Engagement for Tomorrow shares insight to how employers are engaging with schools and colleges as well as how to get the edge on school outreach.

Work experience programmes should be part if this investment. Most employers (74%) agreed that graduates who completed an internship or placement arrived with better skills and attitudes than other graduates.

You may also be interested in…

Employer collaboration essential for successful school outreach

More graduates and apprentices leave jobs for better pay

How to overcome the challenges of organising work experience


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