Graduate recruitment and the dragon’s den


OK – I admit it, and I’ll hold my hand up. I’m not necessarily a fan of every type of reality TV show that appears as the current infestation on our broadcasting channels.

But I have found the BBC2 business show “Dragon’s Den” a bit of a “must see” at present (and if you are one of the few who has not caught it yet, please do so or at least catch the inevitable re-runs.)

Amongst the four “Dragons” on show, all of them successful entrepreneurs who are potentially lending their own money to wannabe businesses who come along to present their ideas and pitches, the arguable star of the show is Peter Jones, the 38 year old head of Phones International.

Lines such as his riposte to a PhD qualified engineer “You say you’re a doctor? I think you need one!” have become instant classics.

So what has all this business razzamatazz to do with graduate recruitment?

Well, if you consider Mr Jones’ presence and presentation, his eloquence (even allowing for the acerbic put downs) and his instant grasp of new business ideas and the figures involved with them (or the figures lacking in the case of some applicants) what would you take his education level and qualifications to be?

A Harvard MBA perhaps? INSEAD, maybe? Well, no, not exactly. This extremely successful businessman set up a tennis coaching firm at the age of 17 and never went to University.

There are plenty of other similar examples amongst the ranks of UK entrepreneurs, and of course we respect them (and yes, let’s admit it, envy them too) for their achievements.

However do we or employers still respect and welcome those who do not reach such dizzying heights but who still make a proactive choice to go straight to work after school rather than into tertiary education?

In an age where the drive by Government seems to be to push for more and more graduates, it is perhaps an even more challenging decision for a teenager to take, particularly if we stop to consider recent trends for the increase in graduate positions.

The recent Association of Graduate Recruiters Recruitment Survey, published last month, predicted a percentage rise in the number of graduate positions this year of 14.5 per cent. That comes on top of a rise last year of 15.5 per cent.

Inevitably such increases and the consequent competition for graduate talent comes at a price to employers – this year an inflation busting increase in median starting salaries of 4.8 per cent on 2004 according to the survey, and the highest predicted increase for five years.

Employers who feel they need graduates therefore also need to compete harder. As Carl Gilleard, the Association of Graduate Recruiters' Chief Executive said in Personnel Today last month: "As competition stiffens we have to work harder and need to make our brands highly visible."

That is undoubtedly true, but perhaps employers should take another approach as well. Would it also be prudent to set aside the preconceptions of the past and consider for which roles they really, truly, absolutely, “must have” graduates and where a far more flexible approach could be taken?

Who knows, with such a review and a revised approach to both qualifications and the particular motivations of a given individual at school leaving age, perhaps more employers might not only succeed in uncovering the potential Peter Jones’ of this generation but manage to keep them in-house?

That might even fit with my re-working of a very familiar phrase to read “people, not qualifications, are our biggest asset”, mightn’t it?