Work experience ‘worth the equivalent of two A Levels’, say employers

As thousands of school-leavers start the hunt for jobs or head off to higher education, a study into employability has found that dream careers are served by experience, not just qualifications.

16 September 2011

Posted in Financial results

by Jennifer Chilcott (see media contact)

The study from the Ambition AXA Awards for talented young people, supported by Young Enterprise, found that many employers are assessing work experience as a major contributing factor to employment alongside - and in some cases above - traditional qualifications. More than half (57 per cent) of employers think it's important for employees to have relevant work experience before starting employment, and more than one in ten believe it is vital.

In fact for many, strong relevant work experience is so valuable to employers that they would place more importance on it than on A Levels: almost a third (31 per cent) would value it as highly in a candidate as two A Levels, while 26 per cent would compare it with one A Level.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of employers believe that work experience is becoming more important. Top reasons cited include candidate differentiation, life skills, and less meaningful qualifications: 58 per cent believe it helps to differentiate between candidates (indeed, 34 per cent believe it is harder to get work experience today so those that have it benefit), 37 per cent say new employees aren't getting the relevant life experience required for work without it, 36 per cent say educational qualifications are becoming less meaningful as more people get higher grades.

A whopping 59 per cent of employers do not believe graduates are equipped with appropriate work skills when leaving education. This rises to 83 per cent in Northern Ireland, and drops to the lowest (53 per cent) in the East Midlands.

Perhaps this explains why the rising costs of tertiary education on the quality of future employees are not considered particularly relevant: the majority said they were not really concerned, and 15 per cent admitted they do not rely on university qualifications.

Indeed, experience, personality and a willingness to learn are all worth more to employers than qualifications. When asked to consider those entry-level hires made in the last two years, personality outweighed all others: 37 per cent versus just 10 per cent who look at educational qualifications. Personality and experience at work or in the sector were the three most important considerations, while qualifications or simply urgency to fill the post made the bottom of the rankings table.

Most important factors when employing new staff at entry level

Ranking

Factor

Percentage

1

Character / personality

60.2%

2

Experience in sector

54.6%

3

Eagerness to learn

52.1%

4

Any full time work experience

33.5%

5

Knowledge of industry

31.1%

6

How well they would fit in with your organisation

30.9%

7

Intuition / gut feeling

26%

8

Degree level qualifications

22.2%

9

GCSE level qualifications

19.1%

10

Any part time work experience (including weekend work)

16%

11

Vocational qualifications

15.9%

12

A level qualifications

14.2%

Thinking about the entry level hires you have made over the past two years, what has been the key driver of that decision:

Ranking

Choice

Percentage

1

Personality / characteristics

36.8%

2

Work experience

20.9%

3

Sector experience

17.4%

4

Educational qualifications

9.9%

5

Vocational qualifications

8.8%

6

A need to fill position quickly

4%

7

Other

2.2%

Catherine Marchant, Director of Young Enterprise, said:"Finding work is increasingly tough these days, and what we're seeing is that employers are after a more rounded 'package'. They're increasingly taking on staff who have experience in the workplace - and the right attitude toward business - rather than their academic qualifications alone. This bodes well for the ambitious: those who show passion and dedication for something - and are willing to work hard for it, getting work experience in the field - are the ones who will end up excelling in their dream job."

The study was commissioned to support AXA's initiative, the Ambition AXA Awards. The £200,000 awards scheme for 11-18 year olds was launched in March to reward young UK talent and achievement in Enterprise, Science, Community, Sport and The Arts. Five talented young people could each win a bespoke mentoring prize worth up to £40,000 (a total prize fund of £200,000). The deadline for entries is 14 October and winners will be announced on 30 November 2011, after which the judging panel will help the winners to create a development package that will help them to achieve their goals.