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Caroline Kennedy: Student work experience key to success

THE class of 2010 is unique in that they began college in 2006/2007 before the credit crunch and economic downturn, but will be entering the labour market at the worst time for many years.

The recession and competition for jobs have highlighted the need for graduates to have the necessary employability skills.

In addition to having academic and technical knowledge, they need to demonstrate a broad range of transferable skills.

Employability can be seen as a set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they can be effective in the workplace -- to the benefit of themselves, their employers and the wider economy.

These skills include self-management, team working, business awareness, problem solving, career management and communication.

It is these transferable or employability skills that employers traditionally report are lacking.

The 2010 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey reported that a lack of communication skills in new recruits continued to grow and highlighted an inability to work independently as a major shortcoming in graduates.

The number of employers citing a lack of motivation fell dramatically, but there was an increase of more than 5pc in those who feel Irish graduates lack confidence. Another area of concern is their problem-solving capabilities, with 27.3pc seeing this as an issue.

Employers also reported that basic 'hard skills' are often lacking. Writing skills are a source of concern, with nearly 52pc of employers citing a shortfall in this area, up from 43pc in 2009.

Leadership skills follows, (36pc of recruiters), although this is a 4pc improvement on 12 months ago.

A recent survey of more than 5,600 third-level students in association with the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS) indicates that students are aware of their skills shortfall.

While colleges and universities do not exist solely to prepare people for work, they have a clear responsibility to help develop students' employability skills. ACECS has proposed that these skills be embedded in the third-level curriculum.

Those graduates who tend to demonstrate the 'right' blend of skills and attitudes are generally the ones who have undertaken relevant work experience and who have been involved with extra-curricular activities.

The gradireland survey asked employers what they felt were effective ways of improving transferable skills.

Overwhelmingly, 94pc replied that a work placement represented an effective method, followed closely by team-based activities at college and taking leadership positions in clubs and societies.

Higher Education Institutions, businesses and students have much to gain from working together and, indeed, much of this collaborative work is under way, with courses across 23 colleges.

Caroline Kennedy is Deputy Chair of the Association of Higher Education Careers Services and Careers Officer with National College of Ireland.

Irish Independent