Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

The last mile: How a lack of technical skills is impacting ‘business readiness’ - and how we can close the gap

Becs Roycroft, Vice President of Global Emerging Talent and Client Operations at Wiley Edge

45% of businesses claimed that graduates lacked technical skills despite holding a relevant degree, while 26% claimed they lacked soft skills, according to the latest Diversity in Tech report from Wiley Edge. This suggests there is a skills gap between education and the world of work, impacting employers who are looking for job-ready talent from the graduate market. So whose role is it to bridge this gap, and should graduates rightfully expect their degrees to prepare them for the world of work?

Gen Z and the job market

Graduates spend years of their lives in education preparing for their chosen career, but all too often employers argue the skillsets many graduates have built at university do not meet the entry-level criteria they require.

Students can spend as much as £50,000 on their university experience and, understandably, many have come to expect practical career outcomes from their degrees. But is it up to universities to improve the practical skillset of tech graduates?

In a busy job market, technical skills such as the ability to code or proficiencies in certain software can be key differentiators that end up getting graduates a job. However, the speed at which the tech industry moves adds to the challenge of ensuring that graduates have the right skills. For example, a report from EY and iMocha saw 28% of organisations suggest that they would need to revamp digital skills for a third of their talent base by 2025 to stay competitive.

However, with the job market opening up opportunities for graduates to pursue a plethora of different careers, universities can’t be expected to teach specific practical skills to cater for every discipline. Instead, the role of higher education is to equip students with valuable knowledge, skills, and life experiences. Universities provide valuable theoretical insight and help to foster students’ love for learning, which they can go on to build throughout their careers.

This means that further and more up-to-date training may be required at the employment stage to bridge the gap.

Employers and their responsibilities

Some will say that employers could be doing more to provide last-mile training and nurture graduate talent from the moment they walk in the door.

Some employers prioritise continually upskilling both new and existing employees. This can help boost staff satisfaction as workers will be able to face new challenges in their careers head-on and move with the times. Satisfied staff may also be less likely to leave, making upskilling pertinent to staff retention too.

Upskilling also makes financial sense, as staff trained in the latest technological advancements help a business to futureproof and remain ahead of its competitors. But training is expensive. Given the current economic climate, it is understandable that some employers simply will not have the budget to upskill their new hires continuously.

Closing the gap

Rather than focusing on whose responsibility it is to bridge the skills gap, arguably it is up to employers, education providers and graduates alike to work together for mutual benefit.

Gen Z often fields accusations of ‘entitlement’ when it comes to getting jobs, but this generation has faced obstacles that previous generations didn’t have to face due to COVID-19.[1] The pandemic meant many graduates missed out on work placements, internships and in-person lectures, and they may be lacking certain tech skills as a result.

But this generation is resilient, and many graduates are taking matters into their own hands to fill their knowledge gaps. This may be through utilising extra training schemes to become proficient in certain software or skills.

Employers who already incorporate upskilling into their onboarding and staff training plans are helping to bridge the gap between university and business readiness too, and further pick-up of this across the industry will help ensure businesses have an easier task hiring for tech roles. Universities must also work to ensure their degree syllabuses are preparing graduates for the working tech world and regularly review the courses to see how they align with industry demand.

A collaborative effort from all sides will help to bridge the gap and ensure more tech graduates are business-ready as they embark on the start of their careers.