Get on your bike, grads!

Tony Goodwin on British graduates could learn so much from the attitudes of their counterparts abroad

Norman Tebbit may have been wrong about a lot of things but when he said ‘Get on your bike’ and go and find a job he was spot on. And frankly, while today’s British graduates may know more about Norman Tebbit from their history lessons than current affairs, his sage words have never been more apt or more of the moment.

I know because I have seen exactly what a difference it makes to have that ‘get on your bike’ attitude and the problem is there are some British graduates who just don’t have it. Worse than that — among them are those who expect someone to not only bring the job to them but provide the bike to get there.

They could learn so much from those eager young people now emerging from universities in China, Poland and India, willing and ready to start building successful careers by going that extra mile to make it work for them.

As head of Antal International I have more than 100 offices in over 30 countries and I am greatly concerned about the lack of ‘get up and go’ among a lot of British university leavers — not all uni leavers, of course, but enough to concern British employers.

The stark reality is that they are no longer in pole position in the international jobs. Frightening, maybe, but true. As is the list of reasons why they are now so far behind.

I would say the current generation of graduates are sometimes far too arrogant in terms of what they expect they deserve when they actually lack the vocational skills and degrees they need for the world of work. Too many of them are happy to fritter away years of study on courses which have no relevance to the career they want to pursue and don’t even then use that time to develop other skills and attributes that may help them to get ahead.

We work in countries all across the world and are constantly reminded of the efforts many jobseekers will go to in order to get a job. They don’t assume going to university is enough and seem to understand it takes hard work and perseverance to prove themselves. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for the majority of British graduates.

Our vast experience of the industry shows that if you want lack lustre, uninspired graduates then  Britain is the place to go. By comparison, the Chinese, Indian and Polish are streets ahead. Graduates in these countries don’t have a self-inflated air of importance, they just want to knuckle down and get on with it. Their studies are relevant, they work hard in their holidays to achieve relevant vocational skills and they are constantly improving their employability.

But while the picture is bleak, it is far from hopeless. I do believe some have lost their way for now but all graduates in Britain can and should be so much better.

Tony Goodwin is founder and chief executive of Antal International

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