Despite the large pool of job seekers — many of them fresh graduates — employers continue to struggle to find skilled talent to fill the growing number of job openings. Why is there a mismatch?

This is largely due to the perception about education and earning. The expectation that a degree will automatically lead to a job and a good salary is fundamentally flawed.

These days, a degree is usually the basic requirement for most entry-level executive jobs, so in their search for talent, employers are looking beyond qualifications.

They are seeking employability skills.

What is employability?

Employability has been defined as “the capability of getting and keeping satisfactory work”.

Employability skills have been defined by Peter Knight and Mantz Yorke of the HEFCE/DfES ESECT group as “a set of achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and to be successful in their chosen occupations”.

These skills are also referred to as “transferable skills”  — because skills developed in one area of a person’s life can be transferred to other areas — or “personal skills”.

In the context of an individual’s career planning and development, they are called “career management skills”.

Employability skills enable a person to utilise his conceptual and academic learning in real life, and to be effective and productive.

In most cases, these skills are not formally taught and their absence is the reason for the gap in what job seekers bring to the table and what employers are looking for.

One very important employability skill is to have the right attitude, especially with regard to “dirtying one’s hands”.

Unfortunately, many young adults have job expectations that are unrealistic and impractical.

There exists a strong personal prejudice about what constitutes a good job and it usually translates into looking down upon several job options.

This is where the whole vicious cycle of job dissatisfaction starts and then leads to job hopping, which ultimately benefits no one.

In real life, a job seeker cannot give interviewers the excuse that no one taught him about certain things and that they were not part of the school syllabus.

Unlocking doors

You can’t rely on your degree alone to automatically open doors after you graduate.

It will certainly unlock doors — in other words, it will make you eligible to apply for jobs that specify “must be a graduate”, and the subject or class of your degree may also be important to certain employers.

But, no matter how good your degree class is or how relevant your subject is to the career that you will be applying for, it is likely that you will be competing for this job with a number of other graduates who are equally well qualified academically.

Once your degree has unlocked the door, you will need the right mix of skills, abilities and personal qualities to turn the handle and give it the push that will open it to you.

Before doing this, of course, you need to have chosen the right door.

Your degree subject and academic ability may influence this choice, but your skills, values, interests and personality will be just as important in making final decisions on your choice of career.

Nothing is certain

The working world is in a state of continual change. Your career today may involve moving between a number of different job functions and employers, and those jobs and employers are themselves likely to change and develop during the time you are employed in them.

Employers are therefore seeking graduates who are enterprising, resourceful and adaptable and who, together with their degree, possess a range of skills that can be used in a wide variety of settings as well as in their careers.

Article by Urvashi Dhar, founder and CEO, The Lausanne Group. For more information, e-mail training@thelausannegroup.com