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Building the graduate skills pipeline

31 / 03 / 2023Claire Farrugia

The first gradireland Breakfast Masterclass for 2023 took place on the 21st of March at the Spencer Hotel in Dublin. The event was hybrid with both online and in-person attendees.

The theme of this event was “Building the graduate skills pipeline: How to attract, engage and recruit next-gen talent”- in partnership with Cappfinity. It looked at the early careers recruitment landscape and discussed the current graduate mindset. The presentations were designed to equip employers and university student services with the tools they need to begin building employability skills in their graduates and offered key insights to help them retain graduate talent.

Cappfinity was founded in 2005 and offers award-winning talent solutions and authentic assessment experiences. They work with a diverse range of clients and have a global reach with 250 clients in over 80 countries, from their operations in Ireland, the UK, USA and Australia. This is the second Breakfast Masterclass gradireland have hosted in partnership with Cappfinity.

The event was opened with an introduction from gradireland Managing Director Gavan O’Brien and James Mailley, Ireland Sales Director with Cappfinity.


Cost of student living

The first speaker of the morning was Rachel Johnson, Strategic Development Lead at Cibyl, gradireland’s research partners. Her presentation delved into the issues facing students and graduates in the current economic landscape.

She discussed insights from the Cibyl Cost of Student Living Snap Survey. The survey presented the greatest concern for students which included:

  • Cost of living
  • Mental health
  • Climate change

It also delved into the measures students are taking to cope with the rise in costs such as limiting their use of electricity, working longer hours and missing out on social events.

The survey also described how students and graduates have changed their career aspirations in response to the current climate. Students and graduates:

  • Have changed their priorities for their first employers
  • Broadened their career interests
  • Are considering different roles within organisations.
  • Students are more likely to consider moving outside of Ireland for a job.

Rachel emphasised that while in the last five years, students were giving greater importance to cultural aspects such as sustainability and diversity when choosing their first employer, that trend has reversed. Students are now giving a greater importance to salary and benefits.

Rachel also discussed the support that graduates are looking for from employers. This included mental wellbeing support, financial aid for remote working, relocation support and financial advice.

Key takeaway: Students and graduates are greatly concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. They are changing their spending behaviour and their career plans to try and mitigate its impact.


Skills resurgence

The second presentation was delivered by Nicky Garcea, Co-founder and Chief Customer Officer at Cappfinity. She spoke about the skills resurgence and why skills are making a big comeback globally. Firstly, she discussed the renewal of the skills focus. The COVID pandemic had a major negative impact on the mental health of students and graduates. One of the major concerns of students, according to Nicky, is their fear of not being good enough. Students reported not being confident that they have the skills employers are looking for. Due to financial concerns, students are giving a greater importance to a sooner start when going into their first job after graduation.

Nicky also discussed foundational skills and how employers can identify them and test for them when recruiting. She classed skills as:

  • Cognitive
  • Behaviour
  • Technical

Testing for behavioural skills can benefit the employer. Foundational skills such as curiosity, collaboration and self-awareness are the skills that build skills and are very valuable.

The final part of this presentation discussed pre-skilling. Pre-skilling means encouraging students to develop employability skills before they even start applying to jobs. Pre-skilling can also help build up student confidence.

Key takeaway: Employers are becoming more aware of the importance of testing for non-technical skills when recruiting. Cappfinity can help employers assess candidates for these desirable skills.


Work ready graduates

The final speaker of the day was Brendan Baker, Head of Careers at Maynooth University. He went into the role of careers services and higher education in the life of students. Brendan discussed the key skills that students should aim to develop during their time at university and what makes a graduate work ready.  He highlighted not just academic knowledge and relevant experience but also a strong work ethic and a drive towards lifelong learning.

Brendan then discussed what graduates look for in their first job. Graduates seek:

  • Challenging work
  • Flexibility
  • Coaching
  • Diversity
  • Sustainability

He concluded by giving pointers to employers on how to attract and retain graduates.

Key takeaway: Skills and experience are what make graduates truly work ready. Employers should consider what graduates are looking for in an employer to attract and retain top talent.

The Masterclass was concluded with a 30-minute question and answer session. The speakers were asked about tailoring interview processes, how students have changed, the importance of foundational skills, boomerang employees and the impact of COVID.

Follow on our social channels to keep updated on the next event in our Breakfast Masterclass series.


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