Bryan Urbick, founder and CEO of the Consumer Knowledge Centre, explains why his company has given up looking for graduate recruits.
Why graduates aren't making the grade
We recently issued a statement that caused us some distress. It wasn’t just the message itself that distressed us, but the fact we had to say it at all. We cancelled our graduate positions.
As a twelve-year-old small- to medium-sized research company we have prided ourselves on offering placement and graduate positions, delivering some fantastic new talent. Over the last few years, though, we have noticed an accelerating decline in the quality of graduates. Despite our best efforts we have come to the decision that we would prefer to be understaffed than hire poor-quality applicants.
“Despite our best efforts we have come to the decision that we would prefer to be understaffed than hire poor-quality applicants”
Our work is frequently centred on kids, teenagers, mums and teachers, so we work regularly in schools. We know this sector pretty well, which is another reason we are so deeply affected by having to take this decision.
Over the past couple of years we have dug deeper to see for ourselves what is happening with the next generation. Technology and ease of travel would seem to have offered them boundless educational opportunities. Scratch the surface, however, and we find that there are some fundamentals missing. This is creating a generation lacking in core skills.
We can’t point the finger at the teachers – they are doing a formidable job. We can start wondering, though, how the current education system is failing both teachers and children.
Teachers are having their power and initiative taken away; they are swamped with unrealistic goals and monitored by an overabundance of tests and evaluations. Little wonder that experienced teacher motivation is at an all-time low. Meanwhile kids are being given less free play time and more goal-based activities. This can be particularly damaging for young children who need this free time to develop their own self-esteem, creative confidence and motivational skills. Rather than developing a hard-working generation we are doing considerable damage.
Combine all of this with the current trend for abbreviated communication, and it is easy to see why we have a generation of clever young people who lack basic written and communication skills, not to mention analytical talent. Twitter and text messaging are far cooler than other forms of communication and it’s easy to see how young people are drawn to the speed and simplicity. The trend seems to permeate the industry in general – everything is on a much more superficial level, and little time or effort is spent on diving deep, which is vital for our line of work. Snappy thinking can work well in marketing and advertising, but there is always a need for real in-depth insights that take some analysis to reach.
These trends will affect most sectors, but research is particularly likely to suffer. The industry relies on strong analytical skills combined with evaluative thought and a capacity to communicate clearly and concisely. In order to apply their knowledge of what makes their peers tick, today’s bright young people need the drive and curiosity to dig deep and learn how to analyse their findings.
We recently took on a graduate who had earned a first in history. But when he started with us he seemed confused when tasked to write up research findings to put into a report. We could see from his academic performance that he was intelligent, but he had no capacity to creatively analyse an issue and produce a written conclusion. His situation is not unique. We have found that even those graduates with the best interview skills fail in the written tests. Does this mean a slow death for research analysis as we know it?
Research is one of the most diverse and challenging sectors in which to work and it should attract energetic young minds. If it doesn’t, or if they’re not up to it, research risks becoming a sector run by older people who will struggle to shake off preconceived notions. We need young people’s new ideas and new methodologies in research. We need to be challenged.
Rather than laying blame, our experience has made us take a fresh look at what we are offering our employees. We make a point of letting new recruits demonstrate their full potential, rather than taking shining stars and giving them boring work to do – a problem that Ray Poynter rightly highlighted in a recent Esomar debate. Our training programmes are designed to build on a foundation of broad-based understanding and to stretch and motivate.
I believe we need to work hard to keep alive the good part of research: analysing what we hear from consumers and communicating the depth of information in an actionable way. Let’s take what we learn about young people in our research and find ways to use it to help our own industry.