Companies caught by graduate gap: Sparse recruitment of new blood in bad times leaves a quality shortfall later, as Sally Watts reports

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The Independent Online
AS THE job search intensifies, most new graduates face more pressing concerns than where they will be 10 years hence. But for companies that cut their recruitment in the recession of 1982, the question matters.

'We have no 31-year-olds,' Peter Johnston, Mobil Oil's employment and development manager, says. 'In 10 years' time, companies not recruiting now will also lack people at this stage. The value of progression is well-proven. Recruitment is a long-term activity. It's suicide to stem the flow of quality graduates - you can never repeat a recruitment year. Even a company that is drastically down-sizing should keep graduates coming in.'

In 1982 Mobil took only eight recruits, instead of its then usual 40. By now these would have been at executive level. Their absence has created opportunities for younger employees, but the maturity and experience that a 31-year-old would have acquired are missing.

This year, recession or not, Mobil has recruited normally with 70 jobs on offer - and 4,800 graduates pursuing them.

At ICL, which also cut its university intake in the early 1980s, 225 jobs are being filled this year. 'The benefit of continuing to recruit year in, year out is clear. If you don't, where are the next lot of executives of 10 to 15 years hence?' asks Peter Forbes, resourcing manager.

It is a problem his company has experienced. 'You have to get the skills from somewhere, which means a bit of juggling.'

Ann Bailey, chairman of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, agrees. Many of her members became aware of gaps in their succession planning as a result of not recruiting, and are now trying to keep it going.

Shell International has a 'specific philosophy' of recruiting during the first 10 career years, between 21 and 31. 'Graduates who have worked for other companies are still able to be part of our management development,' John Akehurst, head of central recruitment, says. His organisation recruits in peaks and troughs: the last trough was in 1972. Peaks are between 300 and 500 and depend partly on the quality available.

Ironically, thanks largely to industry's report for AIESEC (the international business association for undergraduates) and the Students' Industrial Society, this year's graduate output is probably the best- equipped ever - for non-existent jobs.

AIESEC annually provides more than 6,000 British students with 70,000 training hours, from business games to personal skills.

Peter Johnston believes such activities are vital: 'I turn down a lot of bright people because they lack commercial acumen.'

With 16,000 campus members, SIS sees demand grow each year as students prepare for changes in job markets. John Dore, 23, the society's national campaign leader, says they learn from a huge range of speakers and training events what a graduate's role is likely to involve.

This week Mr Dore leaves to work for Arthur Andersen - in graduate recruitment.