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The bigger picture

Written by Martin Reed on Wednesday, 04 September 2013. Posted in Talent, People

With a degree now a less affordable option for many, employers should look beyond academic qualifications when recruiting, suggests Martin Reed

The bigger picture

We’ve come to the end of summer and the wait is over for the moment that students and parents look forward to and dread in equal measure – exam results.

After the A-level results, in particular, there’s the annual celebration for those who have done well and got into the university of their choice, and the scramble for university places through clearing for those who haven’t achieved the grades they would have liked.

However, with 49% of 17-30-year-olds in education progressing to further education, there has been debate over the value of a university education. Obviously, studying law or medicine is essential for those planning a career in the legal world or with ambitions to become a doctor. But with ever-increasing university fees, are the less ‘career-focused’ courses worthwhile, and should employers be so focused on employing degree-educated staff?

We live in a culture that encourages further education and there is no disputing that a degree is an achievement to be proud of. In terms of life experience, three years spent at university can broaden horizons, open minds and allow students to experience new things – as well as being an exciting life experience – but the nature of a degree over the past 30 years has changed. Whereas in the past, an employer could rely on the quality of students coming out of university, with nearly 50% of people now going into higher education, a university education no longer guarantees companies a high calibre of job applicant.

Managers who depend solely on an individual’s qualifications as a reliable indicator of their skills, knowledge and aptitude need to understand that having a candidate with the right qualifications doesn’t always make them right for your business. 

Young people without a degree have a huge amount to offer and employers need to keep an open mind about the qualifications required for a specific role. If they don’t, they run the risk of missing out on candidates with great promise who may thrive in their businesses despite not having a CV boasting an array of qualifications.

A thorough recruitment process is essential to ensure you find the individual who can hit the ground running and have a positive impact on your business. It’s essential for employers to develop a record of skills and competencies specific to the role they are recruiting for and identify the most important elements of the job. Consider what kind of person performed well in the role previously, and what kind of person didn’t. What are the major challenges the team face and what kind of person will best help meet those challenges? A solid understanding of the kind of individual and skill set required for the position will allow you to see how a candidate’s experience, skills, attitude – and qualifications – could fit into the role.

Interviews and CVs have always been essential to the recruitment process and will allow you to evaluate an individual’s background and attitude, but this process can leave gaps in how well you truly understand an applicant. To help fill these gaps, psychometric assessment can be invaluable and offer an important insight into the learning style and future potential of a candidate.

How quickly a recruit learns procedures and reacts to change can mean the difference between success and failure in a new role. Assessments that measure a candidate’s ‘mental horsepower’, such as Thomas’ General Intelligence Assessment (GIA), are a good way to help employers assess an employee’s ability to learn, think on their feet and adapt to shifting business demands. This type of assessment can answer questions such as:

• Can this person cope with the mental demands of the job?

• Could this person be a high-flyer?

• Is this person a problem-solver?

• To what extent can we use training to develop this person?

By understanding how quickly candidates can learn and retain new skills and procedures, you’ll have a reliable prediction of their potential to develop into a new role and how well they’ll respond to training as they progress in the position.

While a good education is important, employers need to see the potential in applicants who perhaps don’t have the academic qualifications or the inclination to go onto further education, which, given the increase in fees, is entirely understandable.

If you are recruiting for a specific role, whether it requires certain qualifications or whether you’ve got an open mind about the educational achievements of your employees, psychometric assessment can – when combined with a solid recruitment process – offer invaluable insight into the capabilities of potential employees. 

About the Author

Martin Reed

Reed has been at the helm of psychometric testing company Thomas International since 2007, after being appointed as chairman two years earlier. As well as penning this regular column for Elite Business he is also a founding member of the Bucks Business First and a fellow of the Institute of Directors.

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