As higher education strives to prepare its graduates for an increasingly global and technologically sophisticated modern workplace, the 2023-24 Global Employability UniversityRanking and Survey (GEURS) provides a wealth of insights into which skills employers are looking for in first-time employees as well as a list of the Top 250 universities that employers feel best prepare students for their first jobs.
The GEURS, conducted annually by Emerging, is the only ranking to reveal the world’s Top 250 universities for producing employable graduates. It is based exclusively on the opinions of international employers and only accepts votes from qualified managers who manage or recruit at least five new graduates per year. An independent survey, the GEURS uses a methodology that synthesises employers’ assessment, knowledge and expectations of new graduates and universities worldwide. First released in 2010, the GEURS is the employability ranking consulted most by employers worldwide.
The 2024 GEURS derives its analysis from 100,700 votes from 11,560 operational and international managers, i.e, human resources staff and the managers of first-time employees, in 21 countries. The employers canvassed for this year’s ranking are responsible for hiring 800,000 new graduates in 2023-2024. It is published this year in conjunction with the Times Higher Education (THE).
2024’s results show that well-known trends in post-graduation employability continue to be priorities for employers while, at the same time, employers’ expectations for new university graduates are changing with broader, prevailing trends as Generation Z enters the workforce.
“The data behind the ranking provides some absolutely fascinating nuggets about the shifting sands in global higher education regarding graduates’ employability,” says Sandrine Belloc, Emerging’s Managing Partner.
Of the six key employability drivers — specialisation, graduate skills, academic performance, focus on work expertise, social impact and leadership, and internationality — specialisation proved to be the most important to international employers as they consider hiring recent graduates. Graduate skills, e.g., digital skills, ranked as the next most important for university graduates seeking their first jobs.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) specialisation and digital skills were particularly important to the employers surveyed in the 2024 GEURS. Employers in most countries said that it was crucial that students develop transferable tech skills and work with the latest technologies during their university experience. Employers also indicated that they want new hires to have benefited from professors’ cutting-edge research and learned from curricula updated based on industry trends.
Global employers’ interest in STEM and IT skills is also demonstrated in the Top 250 university ranking, where the first two positions are taken up by tech schools: California Institute of Technology (Caltech),which tops the ranking, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in second place. In addition, 40 percent of the top 50 positions of the ranking are taken up by tech schools.
However, this year’s results also show that employers are increasingly looking for university graduates that can demonstrate social impact and leadership skills — which may suit many graduates from Generation Z, who are known for their passionate political activism, particularly around the issue of climate change. According to the survey results, employers want graduates who will be more involved in society, can transform organisations and thereby grow their country’s economy. These qualities are particularly sought from graduates from Brazil, India, China and South Africa (which comprise, with Russia,the BRICS countries) and also appear as a top five requirement for all countries in the survey, and also those studying business,engineering and IT.
“The research shows the key skills employers are increasingly looking for and this year it’s fascinating to see social impact and leadership is the key skill they’re looking for,” said Seeta Bhardwa, editor of THE Student. “It shows how employers want graduates that can make a significant contribution not only to their company but also to the wider community and the country too.”
In addition to the desire for specialisation and interest in social impact and leadership, employers expressed interest in university graduates who have well-developed soft skills. This was particularly true among employers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Indonesia, all of whom ranked transferable soft skills as one of the most five important criteria for recent graduate employability.
“The ability to work in a team as well as a cooperative spirit are highly prized by employers in all countries, which are skills consistent with the collaborative and socially engaged mindset linked to the social impact and leadership skill,” notes Sandrine Belloc.
Among sought-after skills, the ability to work in a team was especially in demand. Employers from all 21 countries rank this capability as one of the top five most important skills for young people looking to obtain their first job after university. Employers also said that they look for graduates who have good time management skills, inspire trust and possess superior logical reasoning abilities.
Interestingly, employers in most countries suggested that they did not expect universities to enhance the internationality of recent graduates and that internationality was not a key driver for the hiring of new graduates. Many employers do not see university programs involving intercultural learning and international collaborations as important, and they rate compulsory study abroad programs and compulsory internship abroad programs as among the least important factors when considering a potential new hire.
Employers said that creativity, coping with uncertainty, autonomy, understanding bias and storytelling and public speaking were among the skills they least expect from new graduates in their first jobs. Recent graduates’ storytelling and public speaking skills ranked particularly poorly, placing as one of the five least important skills according to employers in 20 of the 21 countries surveyed. While employers’ sentiments about less important first job skills were largely uniform, notable outliers include French employers, who ranked autonomy as one of the five most important skills for recent graduates, and Indian employers, who felt empowering others was a top-five skill for their new hires.