• Nine in ten employers in Newcastle believe job-seekers should focus on soft skills just as much as their grades
  • A quarter of businesses search a candidate’s social media profile to gauge their personality
  • Yet 57 per cent of young people across Newcastle think businesses only care about academic grades
  • Most employers say candidates who volunteer are more likely to develop soft skills and make great hires

As millions of young people across Newcastle await their exam results and prepare to enter the world of work, new research from British Gas has highlighted that soft skills and personality are top attributes the majority of Newcastle-based business leaders look for when hiring.

Half of bosses surveyed in Newcastle look for volunteering experience as evidence of these skills and almost all (93%) say a business can get great results from employees who have volunteered. More than four in ten employers in Newcastle say they have turned down candidates because they lacked soft skills and personality.

Employers are also scouring the internet to get clues on a candidate’s social skills. A quarter (24%) say they look at a candidate’s social media profile to gauge their personality before meeting them in person. Despite this, almost a third of young people admit their social profile online is not ‘potential employer-ready’.

In Newcastle, almost three in five 16-25 year-olds think businesses only care about academic grades when hiring. However more than nine in ten employers say candidates should focus on soft skills just as much as their grades.

Despite soft skills and volunteering being top priorities for employers, four in ten young people have never volunteered, and more than a quarter do not believe that it will help them get a job. More than a quarter (26%) admit to being too busy concentrating on exams to make time for volunteering.

Pippa Morgan, Head of Education and Skills at the CBI, which represents business leaders, said: “The value that individuals with well-honed soft skills bring to a business is indisputable. As this research and our own indicates: business leaders are very clear about wanting to hire people with the right behaviours and attitude.

“It’s fantastic to see companies like British Gas highlighting the need for young adults to have soft skills, and should emphasise to all those starting out in their careers that companies are looking for more than just qualifications.”

More than three quarters business leaders in Newcastle say their company should invest more in offering volunteering opportunities to employees, as they believe it would have a positive impact on the company. This is borne out among candidates: almost a fifth of young people in Newcastle say they actively look for volunteering opportunities when choosing a business they would like to work for.

Claire Miles, Managing Director for Customer Operations at British Gas commented: “Whilst good exam results can boost opportunities for young people, our survey highlights that employers are also looking for evidence of soft skills and personality before making a final decision on who to hire.

“Most young people think that employers only care about their academic achievements – but that’s not the case. There’s a real opportunity for young people to boost their chances of employment through volunteering, which is a great indicator of soft skills.

“All of our apprentices complete the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, during which they spend time volunteering in their community. We find that this helps our employees to relate better to our customers and improve service.”

British Gas also supports each of its employees to take two days paid volunteering leave in work time. Employees are encouraged to make a difference in their local community by not only sharing their time, but their expert skills as well. Last year, around 2,800 British Gas people gave almost 35,000 hours of volunteering time to support good causes across Great Britain.

When interviewing new employees, British Gas asks candidates about their volunteering experience, to give them the opportunity to demonstrate skills they may have developed as a result.

Case Study: Stephanie Walker, Newcastle

Stephanie Walker, 25, was passionate about sport and planned to go to university to do a sports degree. However, one month in, she decided it wasn’t for her.

She talked through career options with family and friends, and after talking to her Grandmother’s partner – a British Gas engineer for 40 years – she thought that it could be the ‘hands on’ career she was looking for.

Stephanie joined British Gas as an apprentice in 2011. She’s now a fully qualified service and repair engineer and works her patch in Newcastle.

While training, Stephanie achieved her Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) award. She said: “Every apprentice has the opportunity to achieve their Gold Award. Over 18 months, I had the chance to learn so many news skills and I enjoyed all the challenges.

“We did a residential exercise in which involved hiking every day and lots of physical challenges. It was really hard work but we learned how to work as a team and support and encourage each other through the tough bits. The sense of achievement I felt at the end will stay with me forever.

“For the volunteering element I coached a girls’ football team. This was fantastic as it allowed me to use my love of sport to give something back to the local community. I really got as much out of it as the girls did.”

Five years on, Stephanie is keen to see others get the opportunity to achieve a Gold DofE Award. She said: “Doing DofE is one of the best things I have ever done. I learned to trust, to lead, and be part of team and it did wonders for my confidence. I didn’t realise at the time how much I’d use these skills in everyday life.

“I’d encourage any business or organisation to support the DofE. It’s such a great way for young people to develop skills whilst working or training. I’m so glad I got the chance to experience it all.”

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