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Internships tackle skills gaps

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ISE research: internships help tackle skills gaps

Our most comprehensive survey to date of how employers approach graduate training programmes launches this week at the ISE Development Conference. ISE Research Analyst, Samuel Gordon, shares some highlights.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to this year’s ISE Development Survey

We received responses from 173 employers who hired 19,630 graduates in 2017 and were estimated to spend more than £95 million on their training and development. 

One of our headline findings is that graduates who have undertaken an internship are more likely to have honed the skills businesses need. 

The majority (63%) of employers believed graduates who had undertaken work experience had the required soft skills, yet less than half (48%) thought this of graduates in general.

Julie Broad, Company Graduate Development Manager at Rolls Royce was one of many employers who had found that candidates with work experience were better prepared for work:

“Graduates who have internship experience tend to be better prepared for a business environment when they start a graduate programme. We feel that they have better soft skills and can transition into the business faster than those graduates who do not have any prior work experience.”


The survey found that the five most common graduate skills gaps were (figure 1):
Managing up (5% of employers believed graduates had this skill)
Dealing with conflict (12%)
Negotiating/influencing (17%)
Commercial awareness (23%
Resilience (31%)

Figure 1: Graduate soft skills gaps and training

Graduate soft skills gaps and training


The survey found that closing skills gaps is a priority for businesses with 74% of employers taking specific actions to tackle the issue in 2017. 

Changes to recruitment and on-the-job training were the most common actions and 16% of organisations improved their internship development programmes specifically to close skills gaps.

Employers are also investing more in on-the-job skills training. 

Graduates typically receive 11 days of soft skills training on structured development programmes – up from eight days in 2015. Classroom-style training continues to be the most common but there is a trend towards digital methods. Nearly a third (31%) of employers changed the way they use technology in training.

Despite work experience improving candidate readiness for work, young people are less prepared for jobs than they have been in the past. The Office of National Statistics shows just 21% of 16-17-year olds had some form of employment while at secondary school in 2017, compared to 42% in 1997. 

Stephen Isherwood, our Chief Executive, is calling for a boost to work experience as a result of the findings:

“These findings strengthen the business case for starting, expanding and improving work experience opportunities. Interns are not only better prepared for work, but they also tend to perform better and stay longer. 

“A decline in work experience means that the learning curve that many graduates go through is steeper than in the past, and employers may need to invest more time and effort to bring these hires to their required levels of performance. Companies need to be prepared for this investment. Better skilled graduates mean a more productive workforce.”

The annual ISE Development Survey helps us to paint a picture of how employers are approaching their graduate training schemes with fascinating insight on skills, retention rates, management and implementation of schemes as well as challenges, and much much more. 

Please take your time to read the survey in full