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North East businesses highlight key skills required for graduate recruitment

Communication skills top North East LEP and Tees Valley Unlimited survey wish list

Good communication, team working and reading/writing abilities are the most in-demand skills among North East employers when recruiting graduates.

The attributes topped a graduate wish list of employers who responded to a new regional skills survey put together for North East LEP and Tees Valley Unlimited by Newcastle University Business School, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the North East Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses also highly rated planning and organisational skills, computer skills and the ability to adapt and act in new situations. Decision making, analytical and problem solving abilities and sector specific skills and knowledge were also considered to be key requirements.

Bottom of the ‘must have’ skills list were numerical, marketing and social media, and foreign language skills.

Companies considered innovation as the key contribution that graduates could bring to their business, followed by problem solving skills. Despite scoring poorly in the essential skills for graduate recruitment, employers also rated graduates’ ability to develop their company’s social media strategy as important potential contribution.

However, lack of work experience and job skills were the major stumbling blocks to graduate recruitment. Some 61 per cent of businesses said they employed graduates who had the right skills rather than because they had a degree. Just eight per cent of the survey said they specifically employed individuals because they had a degree. However, 61 per cent said they had recruited and planned to employ more graduates.

More than eight in 10 businesses (84 per cent) said they had contacted or worked with universities when recruiting and 63 per cent expressed an interest in contributing to university courses, to ensure graduates learned essential skills for business. However, only 18 per cent were already in ‘very frequent’ or ‘rather frequent’ contact with universities to discuss curriculum programmes. The majority (45 per cent) only tended to co-operate with universities when they were recruiting graduates.

Almost half of the respondents considered the best way to co-operate with universities to be via the university careers service or by offering student internships or work experience. More than half (52 per cent) said that graduates would be more employable if they studied courses relevant to employers’ needs, with practical experience and sector specific work placements.

The survey was instigated by a discussion of the skills and attributes required by North East employers during last year’s Graduate Retention conference at Newcastle University.

North East LEP skills lead, Andrew Hodgson, said: “The aim of the survey was to help the LEP and universities in the region gain a clearer understanding of how universities might help play a role in addressing the skills needs of North East businesses.

“It has thrown up some interesting findings and has highlighted areas where industry and academia can work together to equip graduates with the skills that businesses need.

“We will be looking closely at what businesses are looking for, and how North East universities can meet these demands, as we develop our skills strategy for the region.”

The survey was based on the responses of 103 businesses from Northumberland to Teesside, ranging from firms with an annual turnover of under £100,000 to those earning more than £10 million a year. The majority of responses came from the £1 million to £5 million turnover category (25 per cent) and the £100,000-£500,000 category (21 per cent). The majority (66 per cent) said their turnover and profits were increasing each year and almost half (45 per cent) were increasing their staff levels annually.

Iain Riddell from North East Community Foundation won £250 of John Lewis vouchers for taking part.