What Employers are looking for when Recruiting School and College Leavers

While working on completing an updated Linking London LMI guide, I thought this month I would share with you some findings on employer’s attitudes to recruitment, in particular the recruitment of school and college leavers.  I’m currently summarising the key findings of the latest DfE Employer Perspectives Survey, completed in published earlier this year. The survey includes the findings of over 10,000 interviews with employers in England. As part of its focus, it includes sections on what employers look for in applicants and recruitment of education leavers. As with previous years (when it was produced by UKCES), the findings, which are very positive from our network perspective, are that employers attitudes to 17-18 college leavers compare favourably with school leavers of the same age. Over two thirds (68%) of employers who responded to the survey felt that FE leavers were either very well prepared or well prepared for work, compared with 58% of school leavers.

Overall, the majority of employers find their education leavers to be well prepared, which is in contrast to the often negative perceptions of young people leaving education in the press. Perhaps surprisingly, only a minority of respondents said that their recruits lacked basic numeracy or literacy, or that they had had a poor education.

Where education leavers were found to be poorly prepared, this was most commonly due to them having a poor attitude or a perceived lack of working world or life experience. These two reasons often went hand in hand: 11% cited both of these types of skills as lacking in leavers in the Employer Perspectives Survey (EPS).

As I’ve mentioned before in previous articles, there is a disconnect between what employers want, in terms of job readiness, and what they actually offer in relation to providing opportunities to gain experience of the world of work. According to the EPS survey, the proportion of UK establishments that have provided work placements in the last 12 months has remained consistent since 2014 (38%). Less than three in ten (30%) offered work placements for individuals in education (either school, college or university). Providing opportunities for young people to gain experience of the world of work is vital if we are to expect an improvement in work related attitudes and behaviours.

As part of my research I have also been reading through the 2017 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey report, Helping the UK Thrive, which includes a focus on skills gaps, their impact on UK productivity and employers attitudes to young education leavers. In terms of employer satisfaction with school/college leavers the survey elicited broadly similar results to the EPS survey.

Their survey results showed that young people’s attitude to work ranks as the single most important factor for half (51%) of businesses when recruiting school and college leavers. In terms of employer’s satisfaction with school and college leaver skills, IT skills rank most favourably – with an 89% satisfaction rate. This was followed by team work skills (73%) and basic numeracy (71%). Basic literacy skills followed, with 67% of employers satisfied with leaver’s skills in this area. While encouraging, it still leaves nearly a third of employers who are not satisfied with school and college leaver’s numeracy skills and just over a third in the case of literacy skills. (A less positive picture than painted by the EPS survey). At the lower end of the satisfaction ratings in the CBI/Pearson report are attitudes and behaviours, with nearly half of employers responding as not satisfied and slightly over a half in the case of the leaver’s previous experience of work. The report refers to work related attitudes and behaviours in terms of resilience, self-management, a readiness to take part, a desire to achieve and enthusiasm.

While we should never underestimate the importance of formal qualifications in terms of what employers look for in young applicants as they are valuable indicators of achievement and ability, it is clear that attitudes and attributes are at least as important. As the CBI/Pearson report summarises:

Our findings consistently show that with solid basic skills and the right approach, a young person can build a successful working life. Personal attitudes, aptitude, readiness to learn, effective communication skills and a sufficient capacity to cope with numerical data are the key enablers. It is critically important that all young people are helped to develop as fully as possible in these areas.

How we go about ensuring school and college leavers develop these attitudes and aptitudes will have to be the subject of another article. A recent report by the Sutton Trust: Life Lessons: Improving essential life skills for young people which came out last month explores this in some detail and includes a number of recommendations.  I would also like to highlight the work of one of our partners on building self-belief and resilience, GSM London’s Strength based Learning in this context.