Broaden your hiring horizons

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.

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