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Will entrepreneurs snap up the new crop of graduates?

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Sue Harrison, co-founder of www.studentgems.com says: "It’s about time SMEs sat up and took notice of today’s crop of graduates. The press is full of horror stories on the frightening number of students joining the ever increasing job queue as they finish their higher education.

"The recession has put a stop to many of the traditional schemes that for years have attracted the ‘brightest and the best’. This is the chance for SMEs to tap into this talent, benefit from these bright young things and see how the quality of graduate contribution has significant monetary value."

But Harrison warns against fobbing off inexperienced young staff with unpaid internships. "It’s no good thinking they are a free resource," she says. "Graduates are facing sky rocketing levels of debt and deserve to be paid for what they contribute. Too many businesses have a cheapskate attitude to taking on students and graduates and seem to think they are doing them a favour by giving them work experience and that should be enough. It isn’t. Get real, get a good graduate and get your business moving with motivated, talented new people."

Zak Edwards, the entrepreneur behind prezzybox.com, is also pro-graduates. He’s impressed by their innate tech savvy and believes that fresh-faced school-leavers make ideal employees for his online gift business.

"Graduates have an advantage when coming into the company," he explains. "Being a website and thus technology-based, graduates do tend to have the upper hand in that they are used to working in a technological environment and adapt pretty quickly to our work methods."

But Edwards does have reservations about taking on staff whose sole life experience is academia. "One disadvantage that graduates do have for me is that they often tend to be pretty ‘idealistic’ in their approach to the work environment," he says. "It takes a while for them to realise that we are actually a business whose primary goal is to make money. True it’s nice to do all of the ‘fluffy’ things but these very often don’t pay the bills. This doesn’t seem to be the case with those who’ve worked in industry previously."

Neil McHugh, co-managing director of Rightmobilephone.co.uk, isn’t tempted by the influx of graduates at all, preferring to hire more experienced candidates. "Whilst a qualification does provide an indication of the ability to absorb and retain information, my personal view is a qualification or degree is not the main factor when recruiting," he says.

"Real life work experience, a desire to succeed, basic skills and commitment are also key ingredients. Leaving school with a handful of GCSEs and leaving home at 17, working my way up through various roles gave me the best education in life and business. I had a CV with some substance at 21, whereas other graduates of the same age had little real work experience and a debt to manage."

Chris Clarkson is director of sunshine.co.uk and co-MD of venture capital firm Title-tags. He believes that graduates can be a real asset to small businesses. "We always look to graduates," he says. "They inject new passion into the company."

Clarkson even sees mounting student debt as a possible advantage for SME owners: "The high levels of debt that some students begin their career with can be a concern for employers in terms of not wanting employees to be stressed when they take up a role. But it can also be a benefit because the recruit is looking for a stable job where they can start reducing their debts.

According to Mark Pearson, the entrepreneur who founded voucher portal MyVoucherCodes, employing graduates can give your business the edge with clients. "There is a certain kudos that comes with always looking to recruit graduates at every level," he says.

"That being said, some of our best employees have not been to university but instead have a wealth of industry knowledge that cannot be taught. Given my own personal experiences I think it can help entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people who have a sound knowledge base in business theory, such as graduates, in order to give some balance and strategy to companies like ours who always have a million new ideas on the go."

And the last word from Andy Barr, co-MD of 10 Yetis Public Relations. He says, "We are currently going through the recruitment process for a public relations role where every applicant was a graduate from either a marketing or PR course. The general skills on display by recent graduates was pretty awesome but there were a few basic areas where we felt, through no fault of the applicants, that universities had not really given graduates the tools to hit the ground running.

"A basic knowledge of search engine optimisation is a must for the majority of people working in modern public relations, along with some background about affiliate marketing – a sector worth £4bn to the UK economy. Yet both these areas drew blanks with our applicants."The jury’s out on Real Business. Join the debate and post your opinion using the Add a Comment feature below. Whether you’re pro graduates or pro experience, we want to hear from you. Related articles How to tempt top grads “Ambitious young graduates? No thanks,” says CEOGraduates: Sunk before they’ve even begun How to get the best people Picture source

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