Research is the name of the game. You may have noticed the increasing amount of research being done in the Early Talent space and the many insights emerging from these efforts.  Some of the findings coming out of these surveys and analytical pieces are particularly worth echoing, so we thought we would put together a digestible list of Five Top Findings to come out of recent research.

  1. Selection: Skills vs. Degrees and Universities

A current Gallup Poll suggests the majority of people still believe that type of degree and university pedigree are the ultimate factors of graduate employability. What do you think? How well do degree titles and university names capture the skills a graduate may or may not have?

For one top organisation, the degree versus skills mismatch is increasingly problematic. While BT recently announced an intention to hire 300 new graduates, they also worried about the challenges of finding not the right degrees, but the right skills in the labour market.

Disaggregating degrees from skills is important, because it actually allows you to cast a wider net when selecting candidates. After rigorous analysis, Google’s people analytics team found university marks and standard scores did not correlate with employee performance beyond the first two years. Perhaps the right combination of extracurricular activities, interests and skills are better indicators of suitability for a given role than the name of the course and university on a graduate CV? What ideal candidates might your selection processes inadvertently be keeping out of your net?

  1. Clash of Expectations: the Importance of Being Earnest

Our in-house research suggests managing the transition from student to employee is crucial for translating high potential from the academic to the professional sphere. How do you best manage this transition? The key is expectations management.

The extent to which a graduate’s expectations align with their actual experience is a key determinant of their satisfaction. High potential graduates leave education with very high expectations around career prospects, including advancement. While Generation Y is often characterised as entitled and impatient for promotions in general, their expectations do not occur in a vacuum. The broader social context and the university experience reinforce these expectations, and out-of-date narratives about the ease of finding a high-paying graduate job and the speed with which advancement should happen serve to push graduate expectations upwards, setting them up for a clash with their first employers. How have you threaded expectation management into your recruitment process? How much explicit expectation management do your new joiners receive? Does this process start when they join, when they apply, or even before then?

  1. STEM Shortage: Cause and Effect

You’ve probably heard and read about the shortage of STEM degrees and related skills. Research conducted by the Russell Group suggests the number of students opting to study maths at university had declined by 40% over 15 years by 2004. The Engineer reports that the UK faces a 36,800 shortfall in qualified engineers by 2050. Clearly, the demand for STEM graduates is there, but something is holding supply back.

So, where does the STEM skills shortage come from?

Research by WISE shows that fewer students are electing to study STEM subjects across all educational levels, meaning there is less interest at GCSE, A-Level and university-level. Anecdotal evidence suggests students avoid STEM subjects at GCSE because they are perceived as more challenging. Given how GCSE lead onto A-levels and then university, the problem may not be a lack of STEM degrees but rather STEM and A-level GCSEs.

The shortage is even starker for females. At GCSE-level, girls and boys are equally likely to take STEM-related subjects. This changes at A-level and then again at university, however, where men become disproportionately represented in STEM subjects. A male-dominated course of study and industry has the unintended effect of further discouraging girls from entering, which means the absence of girls in STEM subjects becomes a negative spiral.

So, not only are fewer graduates studying STEM in general, but the ratio of girls doing so is also disproportionately small. Going forward, efforts to raise interest and awareness of STEM-related fields and vocations must extend to even younger audiences in general and continue to focus on females specifically.

  1. Social Media: Unconscious Discrimination

From marketing to graduate networks, the Graduate Recruitment and Development Industry has embraced social media in a variety of ways, including selection.

A study by Australia’s Careers showed that 36.5% of employers looked at a candidate’s social media profile as part of their recruitment process.

Generally, questions and concerns around social media in recruitment have centred on privacy issues. Research out of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the US, however, suggests a related, but more troubling, effect of social media filtering. Through experiments, the EEOC found that recruiters using social media sites to evaluate candidates might be prone to unconscious discrimination. They found that identical profiles with just a few demographic differences, like religion and ethnicity information, were not always evaluated equally by recruiters.

We all have unconscious biases and because of their very nature, we often do not know we have them. Although technology affords us many advantages, like reducing effort and time, it is important to think carefully and take steps to avoid the pitfalls, especially those of which we are not immediately aware.

  1. Free Birds: Entrepreneurial Graduates

According to studies conducted by The Independent, nine out of ten university graduates with a first or second class degree prefer to be self-employed than to pursue a traditional employment route. Although, clearly, the majority of these graduates actually go on to enter the job market, their pervasive desire for independence tells an important story.

Participants cited greater autonomy and prioritising freedom over financial gains were the main reasons for wanting to work for themselves. Traditional measures of satisfaction simply might not capture the modern graduate perspective. Increasingly, graduates mention passion, social contribution and flexibility as major priorities for work life, and highlight the limited value of financial incentives alone.

The fact is, however, that traditional employment has and continues to change. More than ever before, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are traits that top-tier employers look for. If you want to attract these entrepreneurial graduates, all you have to do is show them that your organisation is the best place for them. Highlight how your organisation encourages innovation. Show graduates they will have the power to make a difference.

Numbers, statistics, graphs…we clearly love all things research related. But what we like the most about doing and following research are all the insights that come out of it. Understanding what the data says tells us something real and useful about the world. Nothing beats making fully-informed decisions.

By Saj Jetha

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