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'Flexibility' and 'good communication skills' considered essential attributes during economic uncertainty, shows new employer research

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Being flexible, adaptable and having good communication skills are considered amongst the most important graduate attributes by today's employers during times of economic uncertainty, says research from Red C on behalf of DCU. The employer research was announced at the launch this morning (Thur 8th Sept) of Generation 21, a new set of initiatives from DCU which will change the way the university prepares and shapes graduates for life and work in the 21st century.

The conference was attended by academics, business leaders and students. Speakers included Ruairi Quinn, TD; John Hennessy, Chairman Higher Education Authority; Brendan Jennings, Managing Partner, Deloitte and Prof Brian MacCraith, President, DCU.

Generation 21 is a culmination of extensive consultation with DCU staff, students and employers in Ireland and overseas on the attributes, skills and proficiencies they consider important in graduates today and in the future. A key element of Generation 21 includes the graduate attributes programme which identifies six key important attributes every DCU graduate will have after graduation and which are underpinned by proficiencies and skills that they will acquire in their university years, through full engagement in university life, both inside and outside the lecture theatre.

The attributes which DCU will foster in each of its graduates are: Creative and Enterprising, Solution-Oriented, Effective Communicators, Globally Engaged, Active Leaders, Committed to Continuous Learning.

The proficiencies and skills which underpin these attributes, and which are developed throughout the student's university's life are: Research and Inquiry, Intellectual Insight and Innovative Thinking, Information Literacy, Digital Intelligence, Ethical and Professional Standards, Personal Awareness and Development and Interpersonal and Intercultural Competence. Every student will be made aware of the importance of developing these proficiencies and will be given every opportunity to do so through formal and informal means.

New employer research (conducted in Sept 11) on attributes they find important in graduates show that being 'flexible and adaptable' and being 'results driven' are believed to have become more important in the workplace in the last four years. However satisfaction that their current workforce has these attributes is not high.

Prof. Brian MacCraith, President DCU said: "We've moved well away from the concept of a job for life or indeed lifetime employment. The next generation needs to be prepared for lifetime employability and it's our responsibility to ensure we've done all we can to make sure they are developing the attributes that we know employers want today – no matter how uncertain the future. The development of these attributes offers a certain degree of confidence and certainty to the student that they are learning specific skills that are relevant and applicable but it also offers a guarantee to the employer of the consistent quality of our graduate."

Generation 21 also includes the introduction of an e-portfolio (or live CV) for each DCU student, which they are personally responsible for and which will digitally archive their formal and informal student experiences. The e-portfolio can be monitored and managed by the student - and taken with them when they graduate. The university's successful INTRA work experience programme is also being enhanced, offering new employer placements to c. 800 students who complete their placements every year, with a selection of over 1000 employers on offer.

Minister Ruairi Quinn TD, said: "I want to congratulate DCU for having the vision and foresight to launch a programme such as Generation 21. It's an ideal example of how education and enterprise can engage in a way that is relevant , practical and innovative: it speaks to and shapes the student, it's informed by enterprise but ultimately it results in a graduate that is well rounded, adaptable, and ready to take on whatever challenge comes their way. Ensuring that our graduates are relevant and ready for the world they live in is a critical a part of educational reform."

John Hennessy, Chairman, Higher Education Authority said:" The establishment of the DCU Graduate Attributes programme is a clear signal that the higher education system is inexorably becoming an ever more student centric system. This philosophy must become pervasive throughout the higher education system in its widest sense, in HEIs, agencies and amongst other stakeholders.

"Furthermore the Graduate Attributes initiative acknowledges that the higher education institutions must play a role in the cultivation not only of the academic aspect of a student - incorporating critical thinking, innovation and creativity - but also other skills – such as leadership and enhanced citizenship. These skills will in the first instance benefit the student themselves but there is no doubt that the economy and society will also benefit."Hennessy said.

MacCraith said: "We are very pleased with feedback already received on Generation 21 from staff, businesses and students. One of the key advantages of the programme, in particular the graduate attributes and the mapping of proficiencies and skills, is that it provides graduates with the terminology that will enable them to articulate at important moments, like job interviews, the key elements of their personal development. It also guides students along a developmental path, encouraging them to appreciate the learning which can be achieved through diverse and extra-curricular opportunities at DCU."

"Most importantly", he added "it's new and evolving. To keep it fresh and effective, it will be refined regularly and adapted to respond to the changing needs of employers and society. It needs to be."


A recent study, by Red C, on what attributes employers consider important in graduates, was conducted amongst 100 employers across Ireland in Sept 2011.

The respondents were given 10 attributes to rate. These were: hardworking, flexible, good communicator, results driven, disciplined, confident, knowledgeable, enquiring, enterprising, globally aware.

Results showed: (see charts below)

  • Being flexible (80%) and a good communicator (76%) are considered to be 'very important' attributes for a graduate to have
  • Satisfaction that their current workforce have these attributes however is not as high and the biggest gaps between importance and satisfaction are between hardworking (only 49% are satisfied),flexible (only 46% are satisfied)
  • Being flexible and being results driven are believed to have become more important in the workplace in the last four years. The top 3 attributes considered most important in uncertain economic times are hardworking, flexible and good communicators
  • Getting work experience during their level degree (71%) and being mentored by people working in business (61%) are perceived to be the most effective means of developing these attributes in students

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