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Should Employers Prefer School-Leavers to Graduates?

Written by Kimberley Startup | January 30, 2012 | 2 Comments

A recent survey  has shown that one in five employers prefer to hire school-leavers to graduates. However, the number of school-leavers applying for a place at university has risen by 61%* the last 14 years.

The main reasons given by employers for preferring school-leavers to graduates are that most candidates with degrees lack basic interpersonal, IT, literacy and numeracy skills. Over half of employers surveyed believed that graduates also had unrealistic expectations of working life.

So do school-leavers make better employees?

As an employer would you rather hire someone who has gone to university to study or would you rather recruit a school-leaver who wants to start earning money?

Many more employers are taking advantage of rising tuition fees and the economic climate by offering apprenticeships and other earn as you learn schemes. This is allowing them to cherry-pick top school-leavers who can’t afford to go to university. However many employers still specify a degree as a basic job requirement.

So is hiring a school-leaver or a graduate better for your company? Here are some points in favour of each:


– Grateful for the opportunity to be training and working at the same time
– Your business can shape your new employee to meet your company’s needs
– It is unlikely that they will expect as high a salary as a graduate
– They are more likely to see their position in your organisation as a career path as opposed to a stepping stone


– Innovation – they’ve had exposure to the latest ideas and developments in the industry
– Most graduates have balanced their studies with a  job, demonstrating tenacity and a strong work ethic
– They are skilled and should be able to hit the ground running
– They’ve demonstrated a commitment to their chosen field of study

According to the research, it seems most employers base their decision on the candidates personality as opposed to academic qualifications.

Is a candidate’s ability to fit into the team more important than any skills they may have? I’d suggest that maintaining a balance of both school-leavers and graduates would benefit companies – you would then be getting the best of both worlds.

If you are an employer, do you agree? Would you prefer your workforce to comprise graduates or school-leavers? Leave a comment below.

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