Students have been told by business leaders a degree is not enough to secure a job and have been urged to ditch gap years in favour of work experience.
Employers are increasingly favouring students with a minimum of one year's experience in industry when recruiting graduates, a YouGov poll has revealed. Two thirds agree graduates who have completed a placement year are more employable than those who have not, or who have opted for traditional travelling gap years instead.
The survey, which questioned 537 company leaders and was conducted by food and drink giant PepsiCo, found 46% of companies felt the skills gap between students with a year's industry experience and those without is increasing.
Mike Hill, chief executive of Graduate Prospects, a graduate careers advice service, said the survey's findings were unsurprising.
"There’s no doubt that industry experience is one of the most effective ways of gaining employability skills which may lead to employment. These findings are testament to that sentiment and will hopefully spur more students and graduates to seriously consider and apply for placement opportunities."
Of the business leaders surveyed, 74% felt the students who had completed placements show a better ability to communicate professionally than their inexperienced peers. More than a third felt the former group better understood business etiquette and were able to demonstrate the experience of working in a team.
On Wednesday, Conservative MP Damian Collins said he had been told employers would "much rather get a school leaver" at 16 than a graduate.
"Get them to do an apprenticeship for two or three years. At 19 they will have the skills necessary to be able to enter the workforce on the national minimum wage."
Shelby Thompson, head of recruitment for PepsiCo, which makes the soft drink Pepsi, said:
"With one in five graduates struggling to find work after university, the research highlights the need for students to be thinking about gaining valuable industry experience outside their university courses. The graduate market is tougher and more competitive than ever before meaning that students must work harder to develop the business skills needed to make them stand out from the crowd. A placement year is a great way to build this experience."