Featured Profile

Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Tuesday 25 Oct 2011
The wake-up call for generation Y

The wake-up call for generation Y

Generation Y is a key issue for many employers. There are severe questions marks over the graduate process and education system as a whole. Is it delivering a workforce fit to be managers of tomorrow? At Ashridge Business School, Dr Carina Paine Schofield, a Research Fellow, and Sue Honoré, a Learning Consultant, have been researching over the last four years today's young workforce and their managers in the workplace. They have gained a clear picture of the real issues and challenges and where improvements can be made.

Unprecedented growth in higher education over the past decade has seen more graduates than ever seeking to join the workforce. However, while the number of graduates has increased, many employers feel the quality of them has not: managers report a lack of employability skills in graduate applicants and claim that graduates are tough to integrate into their organisations.

Perhaps it is time for graduates, employers and government to seriously rethink the approach to employing and developing the young managers of tomorrow. What needs to change? Graduate attitudes? A greater focus on employability from universities? New paths to work such as apprenticeships? An overhaul of corporate graduate development?

Today's graduates are more qualified than ever before. However, a degree is not enough and the days of a degree being a passport to employment are long gone. Graduates need employability skills and our research shows managers see a lack of such skills in current graduate applicants.

"Many of today's graduates do not have the inter- and intra-personal skills required to work in complex organisations. Academic knowledge by itself is not enough." Manager, 2011

Our 2011 research (undertaken with the Institute of Leadership and Management) highlights areas of disconnect, which overall, suggest that graduates prioritise their careers whilst managers prioritise the company.

To improve retention and encourage more productive working relationships there is an urgent need to bridge the gaps between what graduates expect and what organisations provide and between what organisations expect and what graduates bring. But where do these missing skills develop and how can the gaps be narrowed?

There has been much finger-pointing as to where the blame lies and who should solve the issues, but the reality is that the responsibilities lie across a number of different stakeholders.

Universities have a key role in preparing graduates for the world of work. Should universities change dramatically from places of academic learning and research to employment preparation centres? Probably not, but there is more that universities can do to help. For example: introducing specific, meaningful experiential learning opportunities; more collaboration with local employers on academic projects and work coaching sessions from managers and recently-employed graduates.

Going further back in time, school curricula need updating to repair the lack of knowledge in core English and mathematics, to encourage competition where appropriate and the true understanding of working for the good of the team. Schools also need to encourage the deeper analysis and enquiry skills that universities can then further develop.

Employers need to review their recruitment approach and work to better match the recruits to the internal culture as well as set clear expectations on career development and success at work. They need to re-evaluate career paths and projects to grow their graduates as well as training that better fits with current needs for a just-in-time approach. Coaching and mentoring are key to today's graduates (and of value to employees of all ages), but often organisations put little focus into making such efforts successful and developing quality internal coaches.


Both recent graduates and managers commented that new graduates need to come to the workplace with a sense of humility and willingness to spend time learning. They need to absorb the culture, politics, teamwork and processes and identify the people and methods that will help them succeed.

Routes into the workplace

Should young people get a degree at all? Work experience is so highly valued, that it is not surprising that some organisations are looking more seriously at apprenticeships and 'growing their own' employees by taking on school leavers and training them on the job. Rising university fees are also propelling pupils to think seriously about a different entry into the workplace. Managers in our surveys valued the work ethic and approach of 'time served' employees very highly compared to graduates.

The importance of experience

All of the above emphasise the importance of experience for successful employees. In our 2011 research the majority of both managers and recent graduates in work cited 'real life work experience' as the most critical factor in employability. Our findings indicate that this experience gives new graduates an accurate perspective on the world of work and a greater chance of career success.


The managers we spoke to recognised that the graduates they supervised were intelligent, well-educated and driven to succeed, with high quality ideas for improving the business. Equally, the graduates were very positive about their degree programmes and the experiences at university. Nevertheless, there are some issues that all parties need to address if they are to help graduates become more employable in today's fast-paced and competitive world.

Download the full reports and read more about Ashridge research here: