Monthly Archives: June 2012

Is it time for employers to simply drop the graduate requirement and concentrate on skills and ability?

Every employer faces the challenge of filling hiring requirements, and while the ‘easy’ approach is to hire people who already have a proven ability to do the job, there are a number of reasons why recruiting and training those who don’t is worthwhile — including cost, skills shortages and greater promotion prospects for those people you already employ.

This was the preface to a case I put forward on ‘graduates versus apprentices’ at a recent event attended by graduate recruiters.

Employers seem to think there is a big difference between hiring graduates and hiring apprentices, but having looked at the evidence, I don’t think there needs to be.

The hiring and training costs associated are similar, and although it might be easier to market to graduates, their salary expectations are likely to be higher, with more competition for graduates, so this balances out.

What most employers cite as a reason to hire graduates is their ‘long-term potential’ but realistically, how many graduates stay in a company long enough to fulfil this potential?

An interesting test for employers would be to consider whether the word ‘graduate’ could be dropped from a job description altogether; if an English graduate and a Maths graduate could be considered for the same role, then is a degree needed at all? I’m not suggesting that hiring graduates is a bad thing, but it is a finite and overfished pool, and many ‘graduate’ jobs simply do not need the skills learnt on degree courses anymore.

The imperative is even stronger when we consider ‘skills shortage’ professions such as engineering. It’s been hard to recruit in this area for decades, but it’s going to get worse. The age profile of chartered engineers shows a large proportion approaching retirement, but there have been no significant increases at the graduate end. This shortage will inevitably lead to pay rises, unfilled jobs and manpower headaches unless companies start planning for it now.

With this in mind, I believe now is the right time to rethink the way that young people are hired. It might be beneficial to look at their recruitment in terms of ‘skilled hires’ for example, graduates with specific skills or lateral hires, and then ‘unskilled hires’, whatever their age or educational level.

With university fees rising, there is likely to be an increased interest in alternatives to university such as apprenticeships. However, many young people will push themselves into higher education simply because it is what they think should do to appeal to recruiters, and so the cycle continues.

Clearly there are a number of questions for employers to think through and the answers are likely to be different dependent on the sector and company, but it must be time for recruiters to broaden their horizons.

Maybe the most attractive employers of the future will be those who offer a viable, exciting alternative to university which can take them all the way to the boardroom, rather than those who insist on the university experience itself.

This article was written by Marcus Body, our Head of Research, and was published in Recruiter Magazine.


Research from the CIPD and Kingston Business School’s Centre for Research in Employment Skills and Society (CRESS) proposes two new levels of employee engagement – the ‘transactional’ and the ‘emotional’.

I think this distinction is superfluous, but the report is not all bad: flick to page 12 and you’ll find a grouchy engineer telling it like it is: “You’re not here because you like working, you’re here to keep a roof over your head and [for] the money, let’s face it.”

Let’s face it: many people at work would rather be somewhere else. This is why we don’t like Mondays and the National Lottery still does good business.

Employment is a transaction, a contract, an exchange. What’s more, employers would always prefer employees to give a little more and take a little less; that’s why notions of ‘discretionary effort’ creep into so many definitions of employee engagement.

There are many people who love their work and go beyond their job descriptions to achieve remarkable things. But these aren’t necessarily the people who sing the company song and tick all the right-hand boxes on the engagement survey.

Often the most highly skilled and motivated individuals are not especially loyal to their current employer. Some top performers exist in a state of smouldering frustration with the organisation that hired them.

They do what they do for their patients, or their pupils, or their clients, or their family, or the rest of the team – or so they can go windsurfing at the weekend.

According to the researchers, people who work to earn a living are only transactionally engaged. They might be the best sales executives or reconstructive surgeons in the history of the world, but they are only “happy to exhibit the behaviour of engagement” as long as they keep getting paid and promoted as promised. It turns out these thought criminals will move on to better opportunities as soon as they become available. But who wouldn’t move on to a better opportunity? How are you defining better opportunity if the impact of emotional engagement is to make a reasonably intelligent person turn it down?

Organisations, by and large, are not that lovable. Of course there are exceptions, but setting the cultural outliers as your model will make for some pretty weird rules. When the folks at Facebook decided to celebrate their sudden enrichment by working all night, what did you think?

“A little bit more of that kind of spirit and we all might be in a better place!”

Honestly? Or did you think of all the stuff you might have done with a million dollars and a night off? Aren’t the most engaged people those with the most interesting and rewarding jobs to do? And aren’t many of those people dispensing with employers altogether, preferring to work on their own?

Why should individuals put the employer at the centre of their emotional universe? Companies breezily claim ‘people are our most valuable asset’ and then get rid of those assets as soon as they can. Employers have told people that there is no such thing as a job for life and directed them to think in terms of ‘Me plc’. It does seem a bit much to get sniffy with people who are simply taking that advice at face value.

Even if we accept the distinction of emotional engagement, its effects are not always benign: employers who want to create ‘performance cultures’ often start by trying to shake out the comfortable, ‘like-it-here’ employees who are enjoying life far too much ever to move on.

There are several obvious things that a decent employer can do which will build good relationships with employees and help them to perform at their best. Many of them have to do with open communication, shared purpose and fair play. Most of them you could write on a piece of paper, right now, without further help. You can call it ‘engagement’ if you like, but this no more than good, basic management.

Back in 2006, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke found fifty different definitions of employee engagement; people have been adding to them feverishly ever since, like Jacob Marley to his chains, with no obvious impact on productivity or performance. We surely don’t need more circular descriptions of employee engagement. We do need employers to have more confidence in their own common sense and a clear determination to do the right thing by their people, even – and perhaps especially – when facing unpalatable economic realities.

This article was written by Simon Russell our Director of Consulting and was published in HR Magazine.

Culture vs. Strategy

There has been a noisy debate circulating around “culture versus strategy” and which should be the focal point behind a company’s promise. Favoritism towards culture appears in press releases and CEO speeches; Stanford University even offers an Entrepreneurship Lecture entitled “Culture Trumps Strategy.” But Mike Myatt, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, feels that a healthy culture and a sound business strategy should go hand-in-hand. He believes that ping-pong tables, free lunches, and on-site massages won’t save a flawed business model.

A culture that is formed in the moment and isn’t grounded in the company’s values and purpose, can crumble in a moment. Click to read more on Myatt’s perspective of why culture and strategy should have a symbiotic relationship.


Commandments of culture

When Ken Thomson, former chair of the Thomson Corporation (currently Thomson Reuters), died in 2006 he had grown his business into one of the largest information companies in the world. He was the ninth richest man in the world, yet neighbors spotted him leaving a local convenience store with jumbo packages of tissues on sale.

Thomson understood the sanctity of value, not only in a good deal at the grocery store, but in his people. He cultivated a culture in which he surrounded himself with hardworking passionate people and worked to earn their loyalty and respect. From hiring people based on their ambition and passion rather than solely their credentials to celebrating diversity in the workplace, click here to read more “rules” for creating a long-term viable culture.


Your cultural DNA

A company’s foundation begins with its founders’ beliefs, values and work ethics. When Marc Beinoff, CEO and Chairman of, turned an idea into a billion-dollar company he made sure his business aligned with his own core values. He wanted philanthropy to be a cultural value embedded in his company, not just a word thrown around on career sites and press releases.

On his first day of work, he made sure that the Foundation, which donates its people, time and technology to support small organizations working to make the world a better place, was filed as a public charity at the same time that was incorporated.  Culture needs to encompass much more than just the company’s bottom line; click here to read more about establishing a culture that reinforces your business values.