Go Higher: Employers want the skills that graduates can offer

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Employers want graduates. Higher education has changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. Whereas it once educated an elite few, it now offers full time places for 32 per cent of the population of young people under the age of 21. It is therefore more important than ever to have a degree to compete in the job market.

Luckily for you, employers like graduates. They want the best for the future of their organisations and see highly educated, responsible and enthusiastic graduates as the means to provide it. They see you as an investment in their future.

It means that although there are more graduates than ever competing for jobs, employment prospects for them are improving.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters say that vacancies advertised for graduates rose by 31 per cent in 1997 compared to the previous year. Moreover, it forecasts vacancies will continue to increase, especially in smaller and medium-sized companies.

The number of graduates on short-term contracts has also risen, reflecting the decline of the "job for life" culture. It is more likely today's graduates will have a number of job changes during the course of their working lives, which means they have to be more flexible, self-reliant and able to respond to change.

So what is a graduate job? Research shows the vast majority of graduates are recruited into jobs regardless of their degree subjects. While many are still entering traditional areas like accountancy and retail management, many more are being taken into information technology and sales, particularly telephone sales.

Of those entering employment on graduation in 1996, more than 15 per cent started work in a clerical or secretarial capacity, although researchers believe this is more of a stop-gap before embarking on to something else, or is used as a stepping stone to a higher level of employment.

According the latest What do Graduates Do? 1998, Career Planning for Higher Education and Beyond, graduate jobs are fairly evenly spread over the whole spectrum of work, from marketing and sales (3.2 per cent) management and administration (13.3 per cent) to teaching (9.6 per cent) technical professions like law, architecture and planning (9 per cent) and clerical secretarial, (12.8 per cent).

The prospects are very good for graduates. Nearly nine out of 10 1997 graduates seeking employment were successful within six months, and nearly 20 per cent of all graduates enter further training or go on to study for higher qualifications.

But why do employers want you?

Michelle Mendelson, recruitment manager for Marks and Spencer one of the UK's largest graduate recruiters, says: "When we are searching for graduates we do not look for people with degrees in specific subjects like commerce, business studies or economics, but at all degree subjects.

"What is important is an individual's ability to provide leadership. We look at organisational skills, enthusiasm and motivation.

"The advantage of going to university is that the individual has three years to develop. During that time they have much more opportunity to demonstrate and fine-tune their skills than most school leavers do.

"We also find that graduates have more confidence to take decisions and act on them than non-graduates, and their social skills make them more adept at leading teams and motivating staff."

Chris Heather, graduate recruitment manager for NatWest Group adds: "The reason we focus on graduates is because of their proven research and analytical skills.

"Additionally, students have to develop a wide range of skills that are directly transferable to working life such as report writing, managing finances and working to deadlines.

"We require this level of academic ability due to the demands of the roles they will be put into from day one, where they will need to assimilate information quickly and demonstrate good interpersonal skills."

Tamsin Smith