All university students must gain leadership skills, says new employability report

 Career focus images taken by AV Browne


New research has found that employers want all higher education students to enter work with practical management and leadership skills – not just those graduating with business and management degrees.

The Chartered Management Institute’s 21st Century Leaders report, published with support from the Chartered Association of Business Schools and Institute of Student Employers, surveyed more than 1,000 managers and 830 students. It reveals that seven in 10 (70%) of prospective employers now want management, enterprise and leadership modules made available to all higher education students to improve their work-ready skills. Two-thirds (66%) of employers say they want to see graduates achieve professional qualifications as well as their main degree.

The findings suggest that business and management students in particular recognise the advantages of such qualifications, with three-quarters (75%) saying that they looked for a combined professional body accreditation when selecting their degree.

The growing emphasis on graduate employability has been driven by employers concerned about skills shortages, with 82% of employers reporting problems recruiting managers. Graduate employability is also a priority for higher education following the government’s introduction of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) in 2016. Universities and business schools are now measured and ranked by ‘student outcomes’, which include post-education employment rates for graduates.

Three in five (62%) of employers say they look for graduates with practical management and leadership skills. The top five professional abilities they want in new managers are:

  • taking responsibility (identified by 60%)
  • people management skills (55%)
  • honest and ethical (55%)
  • problem solving and critical analysis (52%)
  • collaboration and team-working (48%)

The latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that business and management graduates are 10% more likely to be in full-time employment six months after graduating than other graduates. When asked to rate the skill sets of new business school graduates, employers are generally very positive, scoring them particularly highly on ‘honesty’, ‘problem solving’ and ‘collaborative skills’ – but they rate their ‘people management skills’ and taking responsibility among their weakest areas.

A majority of managers (85%) said work experience should be embedded into courses to help develop these skills and make students more employable. Yet only 29% of businesses work with business schools to offer placements. Although this marks a rise from the 22% in 2014 there is still potential for much greater collaboration between educators and employers.

Anne Kiem, Chief Executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools, says: “Improving people management skills is key to increasing the productivity of UK’s businesses. Business schools begin to develop these skills in their students but they can only be honed through experience in the workplace. Business schools will welcome the greater desire from employers to offer students placements and internships.

“Managers of course may have studied any subject. We welcome the recommendation to provide management modules across university courses. Business schools are willing and able to collaborate with university colleagues to teach management to students across disciplines.”

Ian Myson, Director of HE Partnerships at the CMI, said: “As the government's review of higher education funding puts the spotlight on crippling levels of student debt, we need to talk about how to support graduate employability. Our research shows that employers want leadership and management skills to be baked into all higher education courses to give students the work-ready skills needed to prepare the leaders of the future.

“Every graduate should leave education with a professional qualification to enhance their employability – and, as CMI’s data show, it also increases student satisfaction scores for universities. Employers must now work with higher education and professional bodies to create a skilled workforce ready to meet the business challenges of the 21st century.”

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers said: "This report confirms the value of work experience in developing a student’s skills, which is why employers are more likely to hire those who have it. We’d like to see more courses include structured placements with more students encouraged to take up those placements."

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