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University or University of Life? Neither provides workers with necessary people skills

Whilst university degrees and work experience offer value in terms of employees’ work performance, neither prepare individuals for the softer people skills necessary in the workplace.

These are the findings presented by Rab MacIver, Sarah Chan and Katie Herridge of Saville Consulting, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Conference in Glasgow.

In a study of 2,500 individuals, neither a degree nor experience were related to an employees’ performance in softer skills, such as building relationships with others or giving support. Speaking of this link, the authors suggest that such people skills may be innate or developed earlier in childhood.

Katie Herridge commented: “As people skills are harder to develop and may be innate, employers may be better considering personality measures when selecting for people orientated roles, rather than relying on an individual’s education or experience.”

Both degrees and experience did relate to work performance in other areas. Individuals with university degrees offered value in professional and technical skills, such as evaluating problems, processing details and structuring. Work experience provided particular benefits in terms of leadership behaviours and driving success.

The authors highlight implications for universities and employers, saying, “Universities should consider how to offer opportunities which help graduates develop important leadership skills that at present aren’t developed through degrees.”

“For employers, we found that work performance developed at the start of individuals’ careers rather than later on. This suggests that employers should target more effort at early career development interventions”.

Work performance was assessed by individuals’ colleagues – including bosses and peers – who completed a questionnaire measuring twelve key workplace behaviours.


Source: British Psychological Society (BPS)