In conversation: can employers do more to engage and educate future talent?

Written by
James Uffindell

06 Jul 2017

06 Jul 2017 • by James Uffindell

JU: Jane, great to have you join us. EY is one of the UK's leading graduate recruiters and has a reputation for hiring the very best talent in the market – how many students do you offer roles to each year?

JR:  It’s about 1,500 in total, which breaks down into 200 apprentices, 400 undergraduates for internships and about 900 graduates. 

JU: Is that up or down on last year?

JR: It’s about the same, but a slightly different split with more of a focus on apprentices.

JU: Do you think there is a disconnect between what students believe employers are looking for in employees and what employers are actually looking for when it comes to the world of work?

JR: Yes, I think there is a disconnect. For employers, the world of work is changing so fast as are the routes into work, so it’s important we convey these changes to students so they can understand how best to set themselves up for their future careers. There are a number of different reasons: The ‘system’ pushes young people in a direction that might not always be best for them so they need to be better informed about the paths and also understand their individual strengths. At EY we have numerous different entry routes into our business including Apprenticeships.  We also look to bring in students from a breadth of different backgrounds as that helps our teams to bring a diversity of thinking to solving our clients’ problems.  

We’re not looking for people who come from the same background or have the same way of thinking, for example we actively recruit from a wide variety of degree subjects.  Only 50% of our graduate trainees studied accountancy or a business related degree – it’s not something we look for.  We provided structured training programmes and we look for students who have transferrable skills.   

JU: What are the major skills gaps that you see when it comes to the student demographic? 

JR: Students often think that employers are looking for just the best degrees and best academics but that’s the not the case at all. We removed the upfront academic screening two years ago to make sure we created a level playing field regardless of your background. We recruit against strengths rather than competencies as it is the best way to focus on a candidate’s  future potential. 

JU: How has the shift to strengths hiring worked for you? 

JR: It’s been seven years now and it’s worked incredibly well for us, it’s aligned with the organisation’s values and it has meant that we’re able to recruit from a broad talent pool, rather than just looking at academic grades.

JU: It’s great to hear you’re so diverse in the talent you target. Bright Network's research showed that students still think their academic grades are the most important thing for when it comes to getting a job, however employers rank passion for their business, as number one – how is EY trying to change this impression?

JR: Every year we run 1,000 events in school and universities. In schools we run a ‘Choices’ workshop for Year 12 students to help them make an informed choice about their future choices about their careers. We’ve identified five key skills that we think will help EY and our future talent to stay ahead. These are complex problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibly and collaboration. We think these five skills are the types of skills we’ll all need in the future, if you have these skills then we’ll be able to keep looking after the need of our clients into the future, whatever happens to the world of work.

JSU: It sounds a great programme – is it going well? 

JR: We’re finding it’s working well, there is a lot scare-mongering in the media with the idea of robots taking jobs, however we’re looking at how we set ourselves up for the future , we know that the value of humans can’t be replicated by robots. Human skills will complement technology, and these skills will become more and more important.

JU: What can parents, teachers and careers advisors do to help? 

JR: We believe parents are one of the biggest influencers about what students do with their lives. A lot of parents still believe that going to university is critical to a child’s success, but that’s not true any more. It’s the experiences, passions and skills you have that will matter the most in the long run, and it won’t be just your Alevel grades or your university degree. Parents are understandably scared that by not going to uni, doors will close for their children however that’s not the case and apprenticeships are of equal value.

JU: What advice would you give to students to help them maximise their chances of getting a job when they leave school or university?

JR: Firstly, be curious and ask questions, seek out as much information as possible as this will help you make a more informed decision about your future. Secondly, from an employer’s point of view, the traditional careers path isn’t the only source to success, some of the most interesting careers comes out of curvy paths and taking unexpected steps. Thirdly don’t be swayed by peer pressures, understand your own passions and don’t be too concerned by what others are doing - they’re not more informed that you are, follow your own path!