Paper qualifications don't guarantee literacy or numeracy
Much is being made of the alleged poverty of educational standards in the run up to the general election. While the politicians argue, the employer has to find a way to decide whether the job candidate in front of him or her has anything to offer other than academic knowledge bolted on to basic ignorance. Even if the applicant has a degree, can an employer take literacy and numeracy for granted?
Or should some sort of pre-employment aptitude test be the norm?
Jeremy Langley sees about 350 CVs a week, as head of the Graduate Recruitment Company, and he is unimpressed by standards. 'The more technical the degree, the worse the basic skills. Trying to find an IT specialist who can write a competent report, let alone one who has any interpersonal skills, is extraordinarily difficult.' Hence screening through demonstrations of practical competence is a growth area for Langley's company.
In Ayrshire, however, Kenneth Ross finds that the standard of those applying for jobs at Digital Equipment is pretty good. Ross, the company's human resources consultant, concedes that 'they come to us as a clean slate - we give them the skills and attributes we need.
We look for the basics of good spelling and handwriting, and they are fine.' Ross sees no need to put applicants through anything but a one-to-one interview, where the interviewer has ample opportunity to look for clear evidence of basic numeracy and literacy skills.
The recruitment process for long-haul travel specialist Trailfinders is not really centred at all around paper qualifications. Their recruitment process instead includes tests on geographical awareness and fare construction.
'We have no standard fares,' explains personnel supervisor Joanne Redhead.
'Our people must have a certain level of analytical skill and numeracy.' Far more valuable than a degree is long-haul travel experience and work in a customer service culture; crucial attributes are intelligence, the ability to string a sentence together, and coolness under pressure. 'All those are as likely in an A-level student as in an honours graduate,' adds Redhead.
Vicci Handley, marketing services manager of Gwent-based Tellermate, which exports electronic cash management systems, has a different way of sorting the best from the rest. 'Those shortlisted are asked to submit a hand-written essay called, say, 'The future of money', and take part in numeracy tests using a computer spreadsheet. She is scathing of many graduates. 'They can't write a decent letter; but not only can they not spell, they don't care that they can't spell. One candidate had two degrees but still couldn't write decent English.' To find recruits with good language skills, Tellermate often hires foreign nationals and Handley says they usually have a better grasp of English syntax than British candidates. The only one of 10 candidates to meet a recent job specification was Chinese. As for the company's own assessment systems, the jury is still out. 'We've only been testing them thoroughly in the last year.
We'll just have to wait and see how well it works,' says Handley.