I’ve been curious for some years … why is it that graduates with the same perceived level of educational grades/achievement go on to achieve such different results when they leave education? The term employability is an academic term – which to me means a student’s ‘ability to be employed’. I have had the unique opportunity to be both an employer recruiting graduates and working within a careers team at a University.
Mind the gap
We’ve all heard the stories about unemployment amongst people aged 16-25 (743,000 unemployed 16-15 year olds according to a government report published last month) and also the news that many employers state there is a shortage of talent (in this article, during the summer of 2014 1 in 4 graduate roles were said to have remain unfilled) – how can this be the case you may ask? what makes to difference between those that go onto achieve their goals and those that struggle to get out of the starting blocks?
Working in HR for 14 years (and in that time I’ve recruited graduates) and having worked last year at a University on their employability agenda has given me a unique insight. Employers get frustrated about some of the young people in front of them and think that the education system should do so much more to address many student’s lack of the necessary employability skills, behaviours, attitudes, work ethic and understanding of the world of work; it’s so much more than how to successfully prepare for interviews (although some people do struggle with this, struggling to confidently answer questions, talk about themselves and discuss their USP). I remember interviewing a University student for a graduate position a number of years back and feeling like I wanted to pick up the waste bin and suggest they spit out their chewing gum before we begin! Whilst many graduate recruiters could tell you numerous stories about students, some students clearly sit in the interviewee’s chair desperate for their first break, but missing that ‘X Factor’ … not being able to come across as being ‘that person’ who nets the job (even though they may tick every box on paper). It’s unfortunately only the minority that sail through – but what is it that they have that the other’s don’t?
University’s across the UK report high levels of employability, but this masks the real issue … how many of their graduates are in graduate jobs (jobs that they aspired to get into); Universities get measured by the government Education Departments on the number of Grads in employment, training or further education 6 months after graduation. Less well publicised is the metric of Grads in Grad level jobs … this figure is significantly less with many Grads ending up underemployed as they struggle to get the start they desired (some don’t believe being under employed is an issue; I myself started out my career as an HR administrator and progressed through to senior HR roles – in this case, you could argue that to start I was not in a Grad level role but on a career path to get there).
The HE sector is obsessed with league tables and parents use the league tables to compare institutions in the belief it will help secure the best start for their child (regardless of how flawed league tables are as a predictor of success). The sector is full of politics and a desperation to portray things in the best possible light at every institution (competition in the sector has lead to some behaviours that no-one would be proud of as they compete to attract the best students – I saw this first hand at a conference I attended alongside hundreds of other institutions).
At am institution level, there are still unfortunately pockets of academics who have not yet come to realise how important their role is in increasing student awareness and skills surrounding employability. There are still far too many Academics who say that employability is not their ‘bag’ or ‘area of expertise’ – to that I say, go and learn and expand your areas of expertise – there is plenty of help and support out there! Ignorance is no longer an excuse for these academics (as Careers teams across the UK and senior university executives share the requirements of the world of work and in many cases the methods or ways in which it could be achieved, including how to build it into the curriculum). On the other hand, my time in the HE sector allowed me the opportunity to get to know some amazingly talented and passionate academics who totally got the ‘real’ employability agenda, their role in it and consistently went way beyond the call of duty to support their students be the best they can be … academics that get creative in how they deliver the content despite resource and financial constraints. This is the type of inspirational academic that all students deserve to be taught by as they get ready for their future careers.
Institutions need to get tougher with their teaching staff who do not step up to the mark and actively manage their performance – a concept that I’m afraid many institutions have yet to fully grasp (unlike in business it is extremely unlikely performance is challenged and performance dismissals are rarer than a white Christmas – things are tolerated in the HE sector and the only people who loose out are the students). My advice is for students and parents to quiz academics at open days on the topic of employability and see what response you get prior to selecting a course (make sure you go way beyond any stats they may quote at you, ask about course design, employability activities, % time spent with employers, industry experience of the lecturers teaching on the courses etc).
So, how do we crack this issue?
I believe the answer to my original question partly sits with University’s better understanding the individual attributes and behaviours employers seek (and being willing and flexible enough to change what they deliver to ensure the students are set up for success – with a focus on interpersonal and soft skills in spades – read this recent research). Employers equally need to find better ways to assess talent and an individual’s future potential , including their ability to learn and grow with the organisation. Recruiting managers must move to “hire for attitude and train for skill” – having the right attitude you can learn pretty much any skills you need (this is a mantra I have always used in recruitment). I believe there is work to do with shifting line manager and HR mindsets about what a great hire looks, sounds and is.
… but employability is not about a ‘done to’ process … individual students have to take responsibility as well ….
This then leaves the students themselves; what is their role in this equation? (they are of course the variable factor in all these scenarios). I have met and known many young people, some are the MOST motivated, focused, driven people which a huge amount of curiosity, can do attitude, with bags of personal responsibility and the hunger to want to learn and grow at every opportunity (for them being at University is not just about the assignment deadlines, cramming for exams or need to attend lectures to hit the attendance KPI for their course). As a result of this approach, these students have many of the skills employers require … communication, team player, problem solving skills, decision making skills, project management skills ….. amongst other qualities. One things that has always stood out for me between an average graduate and an outstanding graduate that I’d fall over myself to hire is ….. their ability (and often confidence) to get up and take responsibility, take action and make it happen! But why do some students struggle with this?
What can NLP offer us?
Assuming Employers and Academics play their part, the challenge as I see it boils down to individual motivation and goal setting. So many people don’t understand what really motivates them or are not compelled to take action. We are all individuals, and what works for one person may not work for another. In NLP circles we talk about our motivation coming from our values (read our values blog for more info). In order to get the absolute best, people (regardless of age) need to have a clear goal (well formed outcomes), be motivated to achieve it (by aligning their values behind it), and removing the blockages and issues that are distracting them and holding them back – the things that we often refer to as ‘de-railers’ at the unconscious level.
Here at Unleash Your Potential, we passionately believe that people have the ability to unleash their potential and create the brilliant life they deserve … if they want it badly enough … do you? It’s because of our passion that we do what we do! We offer fantastic individually tailored breakthrough sessions and coaching packages that are suitable for anyone who has the desire to breakthrough their baggage (most of which you don’t even know you’ve picked up over the years, trust me I’ve been there!), set compelling goals and get off their arse and make changes easily and effortlessly for them. Our breakthrough packages are not for the faint hearted … they are intensive and that’s because the more you invest in yourself the more you will get out of it … it’s as much about investing time and effort in yourself, as much any anything else (in the grand scheme of things – can you afford not to take the time needed to create the life you want??!!). We never undertake the 2 day intensive breakthrough session without a coaching package attached – this is because we want to ensure we are there to support you as you adjust and enjoy your new found energy, passion, focus and motivation! This type of package is just perfect for those wanting to make a career change or indeed start out on their career path.
We also offer NLP Practitioner courses for those that are not yet ready to undertaken the 2 day intensive breakthrough with supporting coaching package. The NLP Practitioner course is our entry level course; all you need is an attitude of curiosity (which you obviously have by reading this blog!). The NLP Practitioner course is a great way to acquire the NLP mindset, way of thinking, tools and techniques that will make such a significant different to your life …. and the beauty of the Practitioner course is that you acquire the skills, knowledge and practice to use these with others … which is a truly rewarding, trust me I know! The NLP Practitioner course would be perfect for students, employers and academics.
So …. ask yourself, what could life be like on the other side? Can you do it? (can you afford not to do it?), do you want to get rid of whatever it is that is holding you back? …
… whatever you do, do something!