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Employers let down by new recruits

Engineering recruits do not meet the expectations of one in two employers, research has revealed.

The Skills and Demand in Industry report found that 53% of employers in the sector felt let down by the standard of new staff.

Business acumen was said to be missing from many new starters, along with practical experience.

A lack of skills and experience was the biggest problem identified with job candidates by the study, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Unrealistic expectations were also a bugbear, particularly of graduates and post-graduates.

Graham Pearl, engineering director at design and installation firm dB Broadcast, said: “We are having difficulty finding sufficient enthusiastic graduates, with knowledge of our industry, our company and sound knowledge of the associated technology.

“There is a particular weakness in understanding the fundamentals and nature of projects. We had a graduate in media technology in for an interview who, once he understood the role, was asked if this was something he would be interested in. He replied: ‘This looks like hard work.’

“Another graduate mentioned that in five years’ time he wanted to progress to become a project manager. ‘Great,’ we said. ‘And what do you think the key roles of a project manager would be?’ This was met with a prolonged silence.”

IET chief executive Nigel Fine said the role of education in preparing people for industry was under the spotlight.

“Two thirds of employers express concern that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change,” he said.

“The need for schools to promote the opportunities available in engineering and IT careers to pupils from an early age, the relationships between university courses and industry demands, and the need for greater input from industry into policy and curriculum are all highlighted in this report.”

One in four employers said degrees did not meet their needs, with more than half of organisations feeling technical degrees did not develop practical skills.

Keith Joughlin, technical engineering services manager at Tata Steel Long Products, said: “We are not convinced that universities are focused on preparing their students for the workplace. They have become funding driven, not outcome-driven, and seem to have lost the will to link the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths to industry requirements.

“Universities appear to be more research-focused, as a revenue stream, rather than concentrating on the primary teaching function. In electrical engineering, we have noticed a trend towards focusing on electronics rather than power engineering – is this because it is cheap to provide students with printed circuit boards and a box full of resistors and capacitors, rather than need to give practical experience on large motors, generators and switchgear?”

The poll found that fewer than one in 10 workers in the engineering and technology sector was female. Yet more than half of businesses surveyed did not have gender diversity initiatives in place.

The IET called for:

  • Employers to make long-term skills plans
  • Collaboration between policy makers, education providers and employers to boost preparation for work
  • Teachers to work closer with businesses
  • Employers to do more to attract a more diverse workforce
  • Promotion of engineering to parents of boys and girls

The IET also created a news-style programme in partnership with ITN Productions examining the need for universities and companies to work together.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Paul McCormick

    I completely disagree. I'm really impressed by the majority of my Transportation Apprentices and Graduates in AECOM and as the largest recruiter of new civil engineers in the UK over the last 3 years (1400+) we have a good understanding of how to assess and on-board the best quality candidates. I always make time out to meet many of them and I'm awestruck by their enthusiasm and capabilities. In my professional opinion, I would estimate that I am disappointed by less than 5% of our new recruits at their first probation review, but at that point it also gives them an opportunity to improve too. Let's support them in developing their careers and not bashing them down !

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  • Ivanka Brown

    I think what this article shows is the current corporate approach to training rather than the quality of graduates. Universities transfer knowledge and expand the mind to possibilities using the fundamentals of the discipline, not teach them how to cope in the workplace - that is what graduates should learn in the first 2 years in work (or perhaps also in the summers between course years). Give graduates a purpose and a framework within which to succeed and I have found that they have the drive to exceed expectations despite acknowledging that it's "hard work". I suggest it is time for some introspection, i.e the industry needs to learn the phrase - 'You get out what you put in'. How effectively are they training their employees? and how efficiently are they using the skills that new graduates have rather than just looking for ones that older generations had (or perceived to have had in the good old days)?

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  • I tend to agree with Ivanka; Uni is just a gym for the mind.
    I would like to know the number of undergrads that get a placement during the summer.
    If it wasn't for my old man I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting a placment; a very valuable insite into how things work on site. More placements would mean more grads with a better clue as to how things are set up when they get into industry full time.
    But on the positive side, employers have a 'clean slate' and can easily say to grads that this is the company m.o. and this is the way things are, which makes it so easy to 'sell'.
    The other way of looking at things on the sarcastic side is if the student is that clued in on the 'industry', they'd run a mile. :) (from the point of view of having bosses that have had no management training and companies that are a bit disorganised from the perspective of the graduate.

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  • I too agree with Ivanka, did any of these complainants offer any summer jobs? At least as many as the number of graduates that they planned to employ. How else can an undergraduate gain any experience before starting work? And summer jobs must entail some real work including attendance as if they were full time employees and not just "shadowing". A graduate with the relevant degree is an open, but largely blank book on which good employer will create a useful and enthusiastic employee. As for aspirations,yes some are over blown and conceited but we must start out with the premise of a filed marshall's baton in every knapsack

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  • I would like to ask those who complained that the graduates did not have the skills to meet the tasks what level of development they were at when they left university 'back in the day'? This new generation of engineers is required to dive straight in and fill the gaps which were left during the recession. Of course they're going to make mistakes and fined it daunting. Expecting fresh graduate engineers to emerge fully developed is naive and shirking of their responsibilities as mentors.

    That said the universities are too funding focused, highly academic and could stand to gain adopting a course format with time spend in the industry. Unfortunately I don't think the industry would be happy with gaggles of students "livening the place up"...

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  • I too agree with Ivanka, did any of these complainants offer any summer jobs? At least as many as the number of graduates that they planned to employ. How else can an undergraduate gain any experience before starting work? And summer jobs must entail some real work including attendance as if they were full time employees and not just "shadowing". A graduate with the relevant degree is an open, but largely blank book on which good employer will create a useful and enthusiastic employee. As for aspirations,yes some are over blown and conceited but we must start out with the premise of a filed marshall's baton in every knapsack

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  • It is interesting that some employers expect a graduate to have practical experience in their field as well as a degree. Perhaps we need a return to more sandwich courses?

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  • Martin Beasley

    I would echo Paul's sentiments and go further to present that we as "the industry" have to work with the higher education bodies to improve the quality and relevance of education graduates receive.

    At OPUS, we have many of our Managers and Directors that sit on industrial liaison panels, steering groups and work closely with local HE bodies to both improve syllabus content, offer placement opportunities and give undergraduates a chance to ask us what our expectations are at open Q&A style lectures.

    My personal experience has been that finding keen and willing graduates with a real enthusiasm for their chosen career has not been a problem.

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