How can the Middle East make the most of its graduates?

Written by
Miroslawa Kowalczuk

06 Sep 2017

06 Sep 2017 • by Miroslawa Kowalczuk

So why then do so many businesses find them challenging to recruit, develop and retain? Three-quarters of the business leaders and HR directors we surveyed said that entry-level graduates aren’t prepared for the working world. Four-fifths said they struggle to find graduates with the soft skills they need. And 86% told us that keeping hold of graduates with those skills is ‘a concern’. 

Meanwhile, graduates revealed that they’re struggling, too. More than 50% said they’ve considered leaving their jobs because they don’t fit in. 

The Middle Eastern perspective on graduates

This is especially true in the Gulf region where graduates are in high demand.  Focus on nationalisation means that organisations are looking to the universities producing educated young nationals as a source of talent. Often this has led to a battle on pay to attract national graduates, but there’s also a challenge to keep them. Graduates tend to change jobs before they’ve become effective team players or understood the work culture. Employers in this region want soft skills, but despite significant emphasis on training in the last few years, the focus has been on core technical skills. To keep their graduates, they need to recognise the link between soft skills and career progression.

The times they are a-changing

The changing workplace is a big part of the reason for this disconnect between the business leader and graduate perspectives. In my colleagues’ 2014 book, Leadership 2030, George Vielmetter and Yvonne Sell identified six ‘megatrends’ we think will transform the world of work. I believe that they’re already transforming what employers expect from graduates, and also what those graduates expect from their employers.

Organisations are flatter, less centralised and more flexible than ever before, meaning they need a kind of ‘super-graduate’ who can form teams and build rapport quickly in the face of constant change. In other words, graduates with strong emotional and social skills. The same skills business leaders and HR directors told us they’re struggling to find.

Meanwhile, graduates entering the workforce today tend to be more individualistic than previous generations. They’ve also come of age in the time of digital and social media where feedback is immediate and connections are more numerous but also shallower and as such, social competencies can be less developed than employers expect. 

But can it really be true that this generation of graduates is less ‘work-ready’ than previous ones? To answer that question, we looked at data from Talent Q. We found that, despite what the media and employers think, today’s graduates have just as much potential to succeed as any other generation, both in terms of cognitive ability and soft skills. You just need to recruit and develop them in the right way. 

That means measuring the right things when you’re hiring, then moving fast to realise and develop your new recruits’ potential once they’re in your organisation. This sounds reasonable in theory, but can be difficult to put into practice. We’ve broken it down into seven key steps:

When you're hiring graduates

  1. We know that ability assessment is one of the best predictors of a candidate’s ability to do the job; a university degree is only a measure of what someone knows about a particular topic, ability tests measure how well they can work with numbers, interpret verbal information and solve problems.
  2.  Next, use personality assessments early on in the process, to look at the potential those candidates have to develop the people skills you need. This will not only tell you if they’ll be able to work with others, make decisions and take risks, but it’ll also give you information you can use in an interview or watch out for in an assessment centre. For example, scoring very highly on influence could present a risk in certain roles.
  3. Be as clear and honest as you can about exactly what the job entails, and consider using situational judgement tests (which present candidates with hypothetical situations they might encounter in a job) or realistic job previews to help you manage expectations. This will discourage applicants who aren’t a good fit from applying and encourage those who are.
  4. Keep your recruitment process as slick, efficient and professional as you can. And always give feedback (many assessments do this automatically). A new graduate isn’t going to speak highly of your organisation if the hours they spend labouring over an application are met with a deafening silence, or if they feel you let them down bluntly rather than gently.

Once you've hired your graduates

  1. Take a fresh look at the balance of your on-boarding programme. Are you putting equal weight on developing both what you want them to do and how you want them to do it? Remember, it’s the ‘how’ that differentiates an average performer from a top one – whether you want your graduate hires to be your leaders of tomorrow or your specialists of today.
  2. Think about how best to equip your new graduates with the knowledge they need to do the job, not overwhelming them with information. That might mean cutting back on your on-boarding programmes in favour of technology-based, ‘just in time’ learning: giving them access to the information they need, when they need it. This plays to millennials’ strengths – their ability to self-direct to sift through huge amounts of information, when and how they want to. It also reflects the 70/20/10 principle, which says that people tend to get 70% of their learning from doing the job, 20% from colleagues and just 10% from formal, classroom teaching. 
  3. Use the same technology they do to help them learn. For young people, being without their mobile phone is like losing a limb. So make use of this fact, and use technology that will teach them core skills – like how to work well with colleagues – by putting them in a ‘game’ environment. Not only does this kind of mobile learning mimic the way millennials consume information, but it also appeals to the achievement motive, so can become highly addictive.