How can we bridge the graduate skills gap?

Nov 14, 2018 | Sector & policy

George Mattis of QS shares new research on the graduate skills gap, exploring the link between employer and applicant expectations and highlighting key areas of alignment and misalignment.

Research from QS Quacquarelli Symonds and the ISE has brought crucial findings to fruition on one of our industry’s most widespread issues – the graduate skills gap.  

‘The Global Graduate Skills Gap in the 21st Century’, aims to establish whether there is a relationship between graduate skills and employer expectations, leveraging research conducted annually by QS, with the QS Employer Survey and the QS Applicant Survey. 

In the context of our results in 2018, and the subsequent data used to help compile this report, we had acquired 11,000 employer responses and 16,000 from prospective students. A cross-comparison of both were evaluated to establish the link between employer and applicant expectations. Our findings were supported further by ISE’s insights, on how the graduate skills gap could be bridged, using the UK labour market as our primary case study. The report provides a global overview as well as an analysis of divergences between regions. 

Does a barrier exist in communications between universities and employers?

According to our results, employers do not feel as if universities prepare their students with the necessary skills or opportunities to equip them for today’s labour market. Our data considers two defining measures: the value employers place on a particular skill and the employer satisfaction with this skill in the graduates they hire. Significantly, 13 of the 15 key employability skills were rated to be more important than the level of satisfaction of that same graduate skill, which represents a distinct dissatisfaction from employers.

Although results varied between regions, the three most important skills, on a global scale, are perceived to be problem solving, teamwork and communication. 

Action taken by employers in the UK to help reduce the skills gap

Aligned with the ISE 2018 Development Survey this report highlights a number of ways that employers have attempted to address this overriding issue in higher education. Having developed research in this field for three years, ISE has identified key trends that could continue to reduce the skills gap.

The two that were most commonly cited by employers in the UK, were changing selection processes to find candidates with more advanced skills and improving on-the-job training. Communicating the required skills to students and aligning expectations was key, shown by 30% of organisations either doing so directly or helping students to better articulate the skills that they already possess. Although specific to the UK, employers could implement such skill-nurturing globally. 

Our research has also found that internship programs could be a longer-term solution to reduce the graduate skills gap. 63% of ISE employers state that former interns that they recruit have the soft-skills recruited, compared against 48% of other graduates. To back this up, 70% of employers who compare former interns with other graduates, suggest that the interns outperform their peers in at least one aspect of their role.  

In reference to ISE’s research over the past three years, it was found that there has been an average increase of 7% in employer satisfaction with graduate skills at the point of hiring, when compared against survey results from 2015. This suggests that the UK’s model, taking into consideration the examples cited above, could be used to help reduce the graduate skills gap on a global scale too.

Read the ISE’s Development survey 2018 for further insights on the graduate skills gap

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