PwC’s recent announcement has got everyone in the world of graduate recruitment talking. Last week, PwC (named the UK’s Top Graduate Employer in The Times Top 100 survey for the 12th year running), revealed that they are doing away with A-levels as an entry criterion for their graduate programme.

I thought I’d give you an insight into our view on this headline and more importantly, what this news means for you as an employer.

The Discovery Graduates view

To put it simply, I’m delighted! It is refreshing to hear that companies as powerful and influential as PwC are beginning to look at graduates in a different way. This is very positive news in favour of social mobility and will hopefully prompt other graduate employers across the world, in both large and small organisations, to re-consider their selection criteria and start challenging what has been a long held tradition in graduate recruitment.

What can you take from this?

For me, the burning question that this change presents is; are A-levels a good predictor of future performance? For roles such as accountancy, this may well be the case. If you have strong a-levels, you’re likely to be good at taking exams and will therefore succeed on your journey to becoming chartered. But why is this blunt tool used across the board in all sectors? It is claimed that A-levels demonstrate continual success, but is this actually a predictor of success in your business?

What’s important for me is, firstly, a graduate’s speed of learning, which gives you a prediction of an individual’s potential to grasp a new role, and an indication of how they will respond to training. Equally significant is discovering how they take in information, and how they act in different situations. It’s also interesting to consider a graduate’s emotional intelligence (awareness of their own and others emotions) to uncover whether they are likely to be a ‘good fit’ for your organisation. Do their values match those of the current employees? What soft skills can they evidence well? Investigating these factors provides you with much more detail and insight into an individual than any A-level grade can.

Whilst A-levels are indeed a convenient ‘initial sorting tool’ when dealing with thousands of applications, I’d argue that you could be missing out on some really great graduate talent simply because the UCAS points don’t quite add up. I’d recommend a combination of tools including;

  • Behavioural profiling
  • Aptitude testing
  • Situational judgement interview questions

It is crucial that we start to move away from the solid focus on academia because, let’s face it, it’s not the lack of a-levels that is causing employers to be frustrated when graduates enter the workplace, but their lack of communication and influencing skills as well as their inability to think strategically.

In a recent poll of graduate employers, more than half said that none or few graduates were ‘work ready’, with new recruits lacking basic skills such as team work, communication, punctuality and the ability to cope under pressure. (Source: YouGov)

So what we really need to be thinking about is how we can assess these soft skills during the assessment and selection process. In a highly competitive market we need to be widening our searches, not narrowing it by ruling out potentially excellent talent through using blunt selection tools.

If I had three key takeaways for you, of what we can learn from this change, they would be as follows:

  • Always keep your company in mind – what does a good graduate look like in your organisation? What does your business need from a graduate?
  • Do not be swayed by tradition – graduates are changing, graduate jobs are changing and application and selection processes are changing, so you need to consider change too! Challenge your stakeholders, challenge tradition and introduce tools that can be tailored to predict future success in your business more accurately.
  • Use a combination of tools – there are hundreds of profiling and testing tools in the market and you need to see which combination of these works best for you. Why not trial a few different ones and see which deliver the best results for you?

If you would like any guidance or advice on my above comments and suggestions, I’d be more than happy to speak with you, so do not hesitate to get in touch.