Employers' wish list of skills revealed

A Victoria University of Wellington survey has shed light on what employers across New Zealand are looking for when recruiting students and graduates.

The University’s Careers and Employment Service received responses from 346 organisations across the country that were actively recruiting or had recruited university graduates or students in the last two years.

It is the largest survey of its kind in Australasia.

Participants in the ‘Employability Skills Survey’ represented a cross-section of organisations of different sizes in the private, public and non-profit sectors. They were asked to rank the importance of 20 skills and attributes when recruiting for student and graduate positions and rate the expected competency level for each of these skills upon hiring.

Work ethic came out as the most important attribute when hiring university students or graduates. Verbal communication skills also ranked highly.

The results suggest employers want graduates who they can rely on, are ready to take on responsibility, produce quality work and have strong written communication skills.

Employers also expect graduates to be able to communicate in a clear and sensitive manner to different audiences and be able to work with people with diverse backgrounds.

The last ‘Employability Skills Survey’ was conducted in 2006, and while the top 10 skills have remained relatively stable, movement in the ranks shows employers’ changing values and expectations.

The report notes that employers also value graduates who demonstrate a genuine interest in the organisation’s work and have a solid understanding of the industry sector.

The Victoria Business School commissioned part of the research to survey employers about the most desirable skills and attributes when recruiting commerce graduates.

Verbal skills and work ethic again took the top two spots, and analytical and critical thinking came in third.

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce Professor Bob Buckle says new recruits are expected to have a sound level of academic achievement as a foundation, and from there recruiter seek candidates based on a more specific list of desirable traits.

“Employers want graduates who can make contributions immediately. Recruiters look for those discipline-specific or technical skills, but they also want graduates who can engage and communicate well so that they can apply technical skills effectively, who can add value through analytical and critical skill, and contribute as members of a team,” he says.

Professor Buckle is pleased that results reflect the Business School’s core teaching objectives and direction.

“Students can take heart in knowing that our qualifications, and what we are seeking to transfer by way of skills, knowledge and behaviours, are exactly what employers are looking for.”

The survey’s Executive Summary is available online

Employability Skills Survey Top 10 - 2015

1.  Work ethic

2.  Verbal communication skills

3.  Energy and enthusiasm

4.  Analytical and critical thinking

5.  Problem solving

6.  Team work

7.  Interpersonal skills

8.  Written communication skills

9.  Self-management

10.  Initiative and enterprise


Employability Skills Survey Top 10 - 2006 

1. Interpersonal skills

2. Verbal communication skills

3. Written communication skills

4. Flexible and adaptable ‘can do’ attitude

5. Academic achievement

6. Self-motivated/self-starter

7. Team player

8. Energy and enthusiasm

9. Problem solving

10. Analytical and conceptual skills  


Employability Skills Survey Top 10 for commerce graduate and student recruitment (no prior survey)

1. Verbal communication skills

2. Work ethic

3. Analytical and critical thinking

4. Interpersonal skills

5. Team work

6. Problem solving

7. Energy and enthusiasm

8. Written communication skills

9. Initiative and enterprise

10. Self-management