This provocative question was raised at a fringe meeting at one of the political party conferences in 2013 by a frustrated university Vice-Chancellor.  Professor John Brooks of Manchester Metropolitan University was reported as saying: “I’m fed up with employers telling us our students are not employment-ready. I think increasingly there’s evidence that employers are not graduate-ready.”

Unsurprisingly, employers at the event challenged his view and defensiveness on both sides seemed to prevail. Professor Brooks argued that modern graduates, with an “independent, autonomous approach to learning and their understanding of technology, frankly scare employers”.

And our survey says…

Most of the surveys of employers tend to be reported from a glass half-empty perspective, probably to maximise headlines. You never hear a report saying half of graduates are employment- ready!  To contrast with employers’ frustration with young people, the CIPD report, Employers Are From Mars, Young People Are From Venus, found that 64% of employers are not youth-friendly and don’t adapt their recruitment processes for young people.

What do young people say they want?  Recruitment firm, Hays, surveyed 1000 people born after 1983 and found that they place the interest and enjoyment of work before salary, that they want to work flexibly and that they expect to have multiple employers in their career.

Another global recruiter, Reed, undertook a huge global survey of what mindset qualities employers most sought from candidates.  After honesty and trustworthiness (which every employer wanted), 92% of employers saw commitment as an essential quality, with loyalty at number 8. They felt these were more important than skills.

Some of this is about the dynamics of power and economics where employers can afford to be choosy in a demand-led employment picture. It’s also about young people’s different aspirations and the changing workplace. Savvy graduates are voting with their feet where they find employers’ rhetoric not matching the reality on learning, well-being, and empowerment.  Employers then cry ‘they can’t stick at something’ or ‘they lack resilience’.

This is all going to come to a head because of the demographics.  In a recent article, Dan Schwabel observed: “The future of work will be driven almost entirely by my generation (Millennials/Generation Y)… and will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. A lot of companies can’t understand the magnitude of change that will occur as more Millennials enter the workforce and more take on leadership positions.” Nearly 1 in 5 of the workforce will be retiring in the next 5 years.

The Tensions                                               

My own experience, as a coach and people developer working inside organisations and with young people, suggests there are differing expectations and misunderstandings of how the world of work and careers is changing:

We want young people to fit in with our culture

I’m constantly told to stand out and be different

We train for skills; we are a learning organisation

You mean like the banks that put profits before people? How come your communication with me as a job candidate is so poor?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Are you serious??

We’ve invested in you & expect to reap that reward

You’ve got my commitment while I’m here, but not for life; I want to explore,  try things out and keep my options open

We expect you to be punctual & work the necessary hours

It’s about smart working, not time spent

More Youth-Friendly

If we are serious about tackling the youth unemployment challenge, more than the current 36% of employers will need to commit to being youth-friendly.  At the same time, young people may need to be more compromising and realistic in their expectations when they hit the workplace.  According to a Guardian poll, 87% of recent graduates (having left full-time education in the last 5 years) do have jobs, even though many may not be ‘graduate-level’ jobs.

What does a youth-friendly business look like? Check out Youth Employment UK is a social enterprise campaigning for more youth-friendly employers and has established a badge and self-assessment scheme.

Employable and graduate-ready should be our collective aspiration and that means coming back down to earth from Venus and Mars.