Abigail Stevens: We must encourage young to go beyond academia

As more than 235,000 young people in Scotland chose to enter higher education last year, there is increasing pressure and competition between those seeking to enter professional employment.

Microsofts Bill Gates has advocated a skills-based hiring process. Picture: AP
Microsofts Bill Gates has advocated a skills-based hiring process. Picture: AP

With this pressure comes the assumption that beginning a successful career hinges on the outcome of exam season and the attainment of a 2.1 level degree. However, working in the recruitment industry for 20 years has allowed me to witness companies’ priorities shifting from being solely degree-based to include non-academic experience and achievements.

Although qualifications are still highly regarded, the current surplus has made it difficult for employers to differentiate between applicants. For many years, global business leaders such as Bill Gates have advocated a skills-based hiring process and Scottish business leaders are quickly following suit. A recent survey conducted by Scottish Gas showed that the majority of business leaders (80 per cent) look for evidence of skills and personality before hiring employees.

The study, which asked 1750 business leaders, also found the majority believed a candidate who has volunteering experience would provide better results than someone who did not.

Changes in the hiring processes of many main graduate schemes in the UK are representative of this shift. As a recruiter who works within accounting and finance, a sector largely based on rigorous testing and certifications, even it is not immune to the market changes.

The ‘Big Four’ global accounting firms, expected to be the largest UK graduate recruiters this year, have adjusted their hiring criteria. EY no longer considers the class of university degree, Deloitte and KMPG have lowered their UCAS points requirements, whilst PwC has scrapped the UCAS tariff altogether for the majority its graduate schemes. These companies are now taking further consideration to volunteering, extracurricular activities and work experience.

Although Scotland is home to a world-renowned higher education system with top-tier universities, we still need to be broader in our thinking. Companies looking beyond academia now use other means to separate successful candidates from the rest.

Tests can seek to assess critical thinking, situational judgement and personality rather than merely numerical and verbal skills. Therefore, it is crucial that we encourage young people to go beyond academic study and expand their abilities to develop skills such as team work, presenting, networking and decision-making.

In university, there are plenty of opportunities to join clubs and societies where you can take up hobbies, join a team or volunteer for a charity. These activities can be a great way of socialising and making friends but can also demonstrate team work, project management and leadership skills.

Taking a part-time job also provides the opportunity to learn skills in a working environment whilst demonstrating abilities such as time management. Take advantage of these opportunities because when the time comes to graduate, it will not only help open up the local job market, but the global market too.

Abigail Stevens is Managing Director of Think Global Recruitment- international accountancy and finance specialist www.thinkgr.com