ISE Survey – Skills: Are students ready for the Covid workplace?

Mar 18, 2021 | Sector & policy

Covid has changed the world of work, possibly forever. ISE’s Tristram Hooley delves into our Student Development Survey to ask whether student skills are ready for this change.

Our latest Student Development survey explores what students bring to firms and how employers are developing them. It is very clear that the context for student hire’s early careers has changed radically since our last survey and this means that organisations must change how they support them.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring some of these changes in a series of blogs. This week we focus on students’ skills, what they bring to a new employer and how things have changed since Covid-19.


Students’ skills

When asked about the skills that students need to work effectively, employers were generally satisfied with soft skills such as teamwork and interpersonal skills. But they had concerns about both the workplace skills and the technical skills that students are bringing at the point of hire.

In general employers were more worried about students’ capacity to manage work-based relationships and to self-manage than they have been in the past. This is perhaps because these capabilities have become more important in the socially distanced Covid workplace.

For graduates, the biggest areas of concern were: coding and programming skills (25%); career management skills (24%), the ability to manage up (20%); negotiating and influencing skills (20%), job specific technical skills (16%); data handling and analysis (13%), self-awareness (13%), emotional intelligence (11%), time management (9%), resilience (8%) and presentation skills (8%).

While for school and college leavers the biggest concerns were whether they had the ability to deal with conflict (28%), commercial awareness (28%), career management skills (27%), presentation skills (25%) data handling skills (23%), job specific technical skills (23%), adaptability (21%), self-awareness (20%), emotional intelligence (20%), and coding and programming skills (19%).


A loss of opportunity

Employers’ concerns about students’ skills shows both changing demands, driven by the way in which Covid has transformed the workplace, and a loss of opportunity for students to build up these skills.

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 in 2020 showed that internships and placement opportunities had declined 29% and 25% respectively.

During the pandemic students have had less opportunity to build up exactly those skills that employers are now highlighting that they need. On the other hand, many students are pursuing postgraduate courses in response to a challenging labour market. Yet, only a minority (15%) of employers responding to the survey agreed that those who had completed a postgraduate degree had better skills than other graduates.


The need to invest in skills

Employers’ challenges in finding the skills that they need have implications for both the education system and for employers own learning and development programmes. It is important that those preparing students for work attend to the issues highlighted by employers and adapt career development and employability programmes accordingly.

It is also important that employers continue to invest in training and development once students join their programmes.

Under pressure from the pandemic, 42% of survey respondents reported that they spent less on development than they otherwise would have done. The main reasons for the reduction in costs were redundancies, decline in recruitment numbers, and reduction in event and activity-related costs as well as the cancellation of development and social programmes and international secondments.

While it is understandable that businesses are looking to cut costs in the current environment, trimming development costs may be a false economy. Businesses need to recognise that many students will have been disadvantaged by the pandemic and that their opportunities for development will have bee limited.

In the long run there is likely to be a competitive advantage for those organisations that invest in their staff early in their careers.

Read more in ISE’s Student Development Survey 2021

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