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Home > Culture and Society

The Grad Grind

16 June 2006

A study published this week by the thinktank Demos found that - yet again - employers aren't happy with the calibre of their graduate recruits. Again! It's a refrain so familiar it might as well replace 'Er' in the common idiom. So what irks our capitalist pig-masters this time?

Well, some of the criticisms were pretty reasonable, from a business perspective: graduates lacked 'soft' skills, such as being able to communicate well, work in a team and be 'creative', although precisely what 'creative' means in a business context remains unclear as ever. Other problems were that many graduate recruits found it hard to listen properly (actually one of the most annoying anti-abilities of any co-worker) while many admitted to disliking answering the phone. At which point you just want to shoot them, because the kind of employees who don't like answering a phone are the same people who don't like picking up a phone in the first place (unless it's to make personal phone calls.) They're a pain in the arse to work with, because instead of making a quick phone call to sort something out, they'll either leave endless messages or rely on highly ignorable email.

Anyway, enough managerial crap: some of the criticisms of graduates were distinctly strange. The report highlighted the fact that 25 per cent of graduate respondents 'did not like negotiating', and a third felt awkward making presentations. Actually, both negotiating and giving presentations are distinct skills in themselves. OK, some people take to them naturally, but to most people, graduate or not, they have to be learned. Which begs the question: what do companies think they're going to get when they employ a graduate? Someone who combines the effortless charm of Hugh Grant with the hard-nosed business style of Alan Sugar and the charisma of Bill Clinton? If so, they should expect to pay a bit more than 22k a year.

The other big question is: what the hell were employers doing when they interviewed their hopeless graduates? OK, everyone can spin a convincing line of bullshit in interviews, but is it really so difficult to find out whether interviewees can communicate effectively? And if they're being employed in a job that involves negotiating or giving presentations, then isn't that part of the interview process?

The report concluded that: 'Despite rising academic attainment, somehow the traditional 21-year-cycle of learning and preparation for the world of work is not quite preparing people for the reality of life in modern organisations - resulting in lower productivity for business and frustrating false starts for young people.'

The implication is clear - more and more people are getting degrees, but the quality of graduate employees isn't getting better. At one level it's an indictment of successive government's relentless expansion of higher education, but the whole issue seems to be about unrealistic expectations. If employers are stupid enough to imagine that a dubious business degree from a third rate university means they're employing Gordon Gekko, then they deserve the sort of employees they get. And since when was a degree meant to confer office skills on someone?

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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