Britain's graduates are leaving university without the social, communication or team-working skills needed to survive in an increasingly competitive corporate world, employers have complained.
A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters has found that, while vacancies for graduates are set to grow this year, employers are becoming increasingly worried new graduates lack the "soft skills" needed for the modern workplace.
Graduate vacancies will grow during 2006, the third consecutive year of growth, said the AGR.
But almost half of the 200-plus recruiters polled said they were not confident they would be able to find graduates with the skills needed to fill all vacancies. Graduate salaries are also set to continue rising – with the median starting salary up 2.3 per cent to £23,000.
But finding suitable graduates remains a key concern for employers, with many complaining that not enough applicants were leaving university with the right skills or qualifications.
In addition, falling standards and grade inflation was making it more difficult to select candidates, employers said. As a result, those with post-degree qualifications such as PhDs or non-MBA Masters degrees were expected to be in greater demand this year .
Industrial and manufacturing employers also worried graduates often had a poor perception of their sector.
Carl Gilleard, AGR chief executive, said: "Final year students should be aware that nearly half of recruiters expect to face difficulties in fulfilling recruitment objectives – with the largest factor being a lack of applicants with the right skills.
"Employers are likely to be looking to graduates who can demonstrate softer skills such as team-working, cultural awareness, leadership and communication skills, as well as academic achievement," he added.
One in four vacancies will be in accountancy and professional services, and law and investment banking are also forecast to be recruiting large numbers of graduates, said AGR.
The greatest percentage increase in vacancies is expected in manufacturing engineering, sales, research and development, IT and investment banking, it added.
And in a further sign of the diminishing status of the honours' degree within the workplace, the number of organisations planning to pay graduates a lump sum signing-on payment has increased only slightly to 38 per cent.
The median bonus paid has also remained the same for the third year running at £2,000.
The majority of organisations offering such a bonus will award the graduate when he or she starts work, said the AGR.