Emily Gosden and Neil Tweedie
It is assessment day at the Warrington office of the recruitment company BMS, and a business studies graduate rises nervously from his chair. It is his turn to sell himself to an audience of his peers in 30 seconds, in what management types call an “elevator pitch”, a punchy summary short enough to be delivered to a superior or customer during a ride in a lift.
“The reason I think I’d be good at business-to-business sales,” he mumbles, “is… err… I’ve got good communication skills. I can describe products. I’ve got listening skills. Err…” His barely audible monotone falters and then trails off into silence. He finishes speaking before his time is up, then slumps in his chair.
The person in question is 21 years old and holds a degree from a respected redbrick university. He is one of 17 graduates here, on this grey retail estate, looking for a job in sales. Most of his competitors are, it must be said, rather more articulate. Ten are working in relatively menial jobs and seven are unemployed. One of the latter is claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance and six are entirely dependent on that strained but unfailing institution, the Bank of Mum and Dad. Mark Milsted, the man in charge of the assessment, has seen it all before: intelligent people who have failed to master basic communication and cannot organise their thoughts.
“They have gained a qualification because they have enjoyed the subject matter, without thinking where it is going to lead,” he says. “There is a mismatch between what employers want and what is on offer. If you are an old-school employer you don’t understand going to university to study something you will never use.”