Mind the Gap
It is a contradiction of sorts that while youth unemployment remains at all-time high, more than 43% of employers across nine countries in 2012 were unable to find enough skilled entry level candidates with critical skills. These nine countries surveyed by McKinsey in its Education to Employment report included UK, US and Germany on the one hand and emerging economies like Brazil, India and Turkey. This research also revealed an immense gap and disconnect in perception where 42% of employers felt that graduates were adequately prepared for the workplace while 72% of universities felt that their graduates were well prepared for the workplace.
Four years on, these perceptions remain virtually unchanged and the shortage of entry level workers with employment critical skills continues unabated. As a consequence more and more youth do not find a job associated with their field of study and many start their careers in jobs that do not actually require their academic qualifications. Positive transitions from education to employment where education and employment align perfectly are, sadly, exceptions to the norm.
Obvious as it may seem, aligning education with employment is a logical way to address skills shortage with employment opportunities. Yet, for whatever reasons, the gap continues unchecked and it is obvious that employer requirements are not optimally appreciated by education. McKinsey describe the relationship between education and employers as operating independently on two separate adjoining lanes of a motorway travelling in the same general direction with minimal alignment.
Hiring graduates remain an expensive investment for employers. Not only do they have to deal with the significant candidate response volumes appropriately, they have to select the ‘right’ graduates meticulously and spend heavily on their development preparing them for deployment into the front line of their businesses. All too often such development involves training from the very basics of business. It is therefore not surprising that when business slows down, as in the recent recession, investment on graduate initiatives dry up and employers become very selective about the graduates they hire ensuring that those selected are endowed with the right qualities.
So what are these ‘right’ qualities?
The first is Competence best demonstrated by numeracy skills, verbal fluency, creativity and problem solving. Numeracy and Verbal skills continue to be the best indicators of raw intellect and employers value the abilities of critical evaluation and articulate expression. With fast pace change having become the new normal, critical thinking and creative problem solving are core capabilities.
The second is Confidence best demonstrated by teamwork, communication and influencing abilities. With five generations working shoulder to shoulder at the workplace in a cultural melting pot brought about by increased globalisation, the ability to work together with others, appreciating diversity, managing differences of opinion and communicating effectively are essential qualities.
The third is Courage demonstrated by work ethic and leadership. Time tested and almost universal, personal work ethic is a crucial quality. With increased awareness about work life balance, rest and recovery, different generational expectations from work, emergence of technology and work substitution employers continue to look for a committed work ethic that aligns with their organisational culture and leadership skills where direction is provided and personal accountability taken.
Those aspiring to join the workplace should be well aware of these expectations and take personal accountability to ‘mind the gap’ and develop their own bridge over the widening gap between education and employment.