Blog Post

What Skills Do Employers Really Want?

Today a new report out of England by the Industry in Education trust came out with the surprising, common sensical, and yet seemingly impossible finding that college graduates are not getting jobs because they lack "personal and interactive skills."   Interesting.  


I love that.   At Duke, the HASTAC team has been challenged to create the Master's degree that truly addresses needs, not one that fills a gap or uses existing models, and we share that conviction that personal and interactive skills are key to higher education and to work in the future.   


We are working to create a new Master's in Knowledge and Networks that is grounded in mastering an array of technology skills, in immersing oneself in deep critical and historical thinking about media and about technology and about historical change in the ways we read, write, communicate and interact, and then also engaging in actual think-then-do-then-think "collaboration by difference" HASTAC-style peer training in project management, collaboration, team-building, and other interactive and interpersonal skills.   We'll be using methods tested by industries that have transformed their own management model such as Cisco as well as methods from open web development at tech corporations (namely Mozilla, of course!).  They are the pioneers in new innovation challenges and other methods.  Our MKN students, in their second year, will then actually going as SWAT teams into a local business or corporation, an arts or learning institution, a nonprofit or NGO, and they will use those skills to assess, define, and solve a problem, creating business and technology plans and work flow documents that they can pass on to the sponsoring organization for future sustainability. 


Our assumption is that you need deep thinking, technical skills, reading and writing skills, and interpersonal collaborative skills to succeed in a changing world.   Now, here's what the Industry in Education commission says:

Graduate job seekers 'lack personal and interactive skills' demanded by industry

  • ATTN: Education Corrs.

A significant number of graduate job seekers lack the personal and interactive skills demanded by employers, or at least do not know how to display them, according to a study by Industry in Education (IIE), a national education trust supported by leading UK industrialists.

Many companies still get the graduates they want by careful selection and targeting the best university departments and candidates. But the difference between "the best" and "the rest" was becoming very noticeable, said the report.

IIE, a body that investigates and comments on educational issues, warned that with larger numbers of students attending universities than ever before, personal skills will increasingly be "expected to come with the graduate package."

Lack of funds for internal careers services was causing difficulties for universities trying to help their undergraduates acquire personal and interactive skills, said Dick Whitcutt, Director of Industry in Education, who co-authored the report with Marilyn Lindsey.

The authors said their 18-month study took account of (largely unsuccessful) government attempts to spread accreditation and teaching of "key skills" to universities, calls for "transferable skills" to be emphasised in degree programmes and plans by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education for all universities to develop broader student progress files alongside to supplement degree certificates.

Despite these initiatives and several previous reports calling for universities to give more attention to personal skills for employability, "we found that little more than tokenism has been taking place at many universities."

Academics were "unenthusiastic" to the proposals while students tended to be reluctant to attend add-on courses or optional modules if they do not in some way "count" towards their degree.

"Many academics regard personal skills training as a non-essential component of the degree experience - perhaps still believing that the ideal outcome of degree studies is to train the next generation of academics," said Dick Whitcutt.

In contrast to previous reports, "we reluctantly concluded that current academic staff may not be appropriately experienced or motivated to teach these broader aspects and that personal and interactive skills may need different forms of skills practice, feedback and self awareness alongside academic teaching," he added.

IIE's advisory group of employers confirmed that the employment market had changed so dramatically in recent years that "urgent action is called for by the higher education sector."

While companies were prepared to train recruits in skills relevant to technical tasks or for integration into the business environment they "cannot always invest in 'remedial' training for basic personal and interpersonal skills."

In today's tough business environment, many graduate recruits were thrown in at the deep end and were expected to "sink or swim" in dealing with customers and experienced colleagues.

Expectations are based on the level and salary of the appointment rather than by making allowances for the workplace experience of fresh graduates. Employers "are looking as much (or more) at personal skills for immediate deployment, as they will be at the specialist content of the degree," the report said.

It called for funding to be channelled more specifically to "promote a consistent pattern of personal and interactive skills development training at all universities", adding that industry would respond to requests for staff to help in delivery of this training.

Distributed by PR Newswire on behalf of Industry in Education

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