Be realistic

You’ve found your dream job, the one you’ve always wanted – it is just perfect. Are you sure about that, or are you overlooking some important detail? How do you respond when a few potential problems emerge?


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A radical alternative

I recently met a young graduate who had submitted 850 job applications – yes, eight hundred and fifty – over a period of three months. That is quite an impressive submission rate.

Graduates and recruiters appear to be stuck in a vicious circle.

The odds appear to be loaded against graduates, with too many chasing too few positions. Recognising this, they play the numbers game, applying for far more roles than they can possibly care about.

The recruiters, seeing ever more applications hitting their inboxes, retaliate by applying more (automated) filters to reduce the numbers to more manageable proportions. As a consequence graduates pedal even faster, pushing out ever more applications in the hope that one will breach the recruiters’ defences and result in a job offer. Or at least an interview.

From my experience of talking to graduates, 850 applications is unusual; 200 to 250 applications is more “normal”, but even that represents a lot of time spent applying. Or does it? Is the process too simple? Is it just too easy to Copy/ Paste “standard” text before hitting the Submit button? Continue reading

An inspiring social enterprise

Whilst recently undertaking some research, I stumbled across an organisation which gave me real encouragement and a feeling of excitement.

The Spring Project is a social enterprise which is making a difference to the lives of students by increasing their employability – something which has never happened to them despite all their years of education.  Here is a perfect example of how small initiatives can grow, widen, expand and gradually touch more and more people – from unemployed students to employers, universities and other partners.  This isn’t some government-led initiative; it’s growing community, run on a self-sustaining, not-for-profit model.

I had the chance to offer some help to a group of graduates who were struggling to get their first step onto the employment ladder; to get “into the system” somehow.  Well-qualified and able people, the one thing they lacked was the know-how to get a job.  Note – not the ability to do the job; the ability to get the job in the first place.  It was refreshing to see how receptive they were to advice, and to see how a change in their mindset could make such a difference.  They were able to understand just how valuable some of their earlier experiences were to potential employers; how some of their skills could transfer neatly into a different industry; how employers don’t just look for a long list of qualifications. Such a shame that they’ve gone through years of education without ever having been shown how important this is, but a relief to see them rejuvenated and re-energised so quickly.  It’s only by initiatives such as The Spring Project that we’re going to be able to make the difference we need.  Government edicts, league tables and pronouncements won’t do it; starting small and growing organically will.

Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills

The CBI has recently published its Education and skills survey for 2012 entitled
Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills.

As you might expect from a body as competent as the Confederation of British Industry in partnership with Pearson, it is full of fascinating statistics presented with startling clarity. There is good news and not-so-good news.  And in places, some really bad news.

It is now absolutely clear that it’s the employability of graduates which is important – not just the degree.  This is brilliant news because it is fixable and doesn’t point to a fundamentally flawed system.  Certainly it indicates a shortcoming in the current arrangement of academic qualifications at secondary schools, leading to university places without any real-world experience, but this can be addressed.

The comforting news is that Employability skills are far and away the most important factor considered when recruiting graduates, ahead of Degree subject and Relevant work experience/ industrial placement (81% versus 70% and 68% respectively).  This is comforting because we’ve believed it for a long time; we’ve felt it and we’ve heard it said.  Now we have the hard facts – evidence from what employers are saying.

For the purposes of clarity here, the CBI definition of Employability skills is summarised as a positive attitude, underpinning:
  • Self-management
  • Teamworking
  • Business and customer awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Communication and literacy
  • Application of numeracy
  • Application of information technology

Employer satisfaction with school/ college leavers’ employability skills is catastrophically low.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the use of IT scores highest, but with just 12% very satisfied. None of the other factors is rated higher than 5%.
In the case of graduates, the figures are better, but hardly encouraging.  Again, the use of IT scores highest with 26% very satisfied, with none of the other factors rated higher than 16%.

There are some clear actions resulting from this, and the report recommends greater emphasis on employability skills at secondary schools.

Employers believe much of the damage is caused by neglect or failings further upstream, and suggest that numeracy should be a priority for primary education.  Given what we’ve come to believe about our current education system, this is probably not a surprise.

The report contains some seriously bad news too:
“There is, however, some research suggesting the number of adults with poor numeracy has increased over the past eight years and that one in two adults now has numeracy skills roughly equivalent only to those expected of children at primary school, meaning for example that they may not be able to understand pay and deductions on a wages slip.”   [Reference: 17 million adults have poor numeracy skills, National Numeracy, February 2012].

Hard to believe – one in two adults!  This didn’t happen overnight – it is the result of a long decline in standards, combined with changing beliefs and experimental methods.  In any case, recovery from here is going to be a long haul, and take a huge investment coordinated across multiple stakeholders.  This is not going to be easily fixed.

Unlocking Britain’s potential

A fascinating report has been published at

Two quotes jump right off the page – “We are failing our youth and creating a lost workforce“, and “Education is failing employers and employees“.

And a few key statistics:

67% of employers think there needs to be a collaborative effort between government, employers, parents, individuals and the education system to ensure that those entering the workforce have the skills required by potential employers.

50% of respondents (46% of employees; 53% of employers) say that university does not equip graduates with the right skills for the workplace.

Employers rate future potential on attitude (91%); work experience (55%); education/ qualification (35%).

This report was an initiative from the Adecco Group, partnered with Deloitte and Cisco.  It is a brilliant read, with a number of key recommendations.  The only real worry is that it’s going to take time, money, lots of effort, joined-up thinking, and some serious collaboration to resolve.  That usually only happens when there is clear leadership.  In the report, there is a call to government to take action – will the resultant action be positive, or will there be an “official response”, acknowledging that something needs to be done but disagreeing with much of it?  Some of the actions proposed:

There needs ot be structured collaboration between employers, education, government and other stakeholders to better define what we need from the education sector, and how we measure it.

Employers need to be more engaged in education, and in particular not restricted to major employers.

Teachers need to be given wider support and training, in understanding the needs of employers and workplace norms.

Work experience in schools needs to be formalised.

It’s absolutely brilliant to find such a major study with such clear findings.  The recommended actions are clear.  Let’s see what happens next.