An Analysis of Employer Perceptions of Business Graduate Competencies: A Case of New Zealand

An Analysis of Employer Perceptions of Business Graduate Competencies: A Case of New Zealand

Adnan Iqbal (Kaplan Business School, Australia) and Lawton Hakaraia (Media Design School, Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6537-7.ch004
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This exploratory study assesses employers' perceptions of the importance and competence levels of performing identified graduates' competencies in the New Zealand public sector. The tertiary education institutions in New Zealand are facing increasing demands from employers and stakeholders. The employers demand that the educational institutions today should provide relevant skillset needed by the current organisations. What kind of skillsets required by employers and what institutes are offering to their graduates, however, are yet to be determined. This study attempts to fill the gap in the literature by examining this in the New Zealand public sector. Therefore, this study will determine what employers' work perceptions are regarding skills needed versus what skills graduates actually bring to the workplace.
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There are a number of definitions of competencies that exist in the literature from various perspectives. For instance, Sparrow and Bognanno (1993) note that: “Competencies represent a simple concept, i.e. behavioural repertoires that have been identified as relevant to a particular organisational context that some people can perform better than others” (p. 51). On the other hand, Spencer and Spencer (1993) define the term competency as “an underlying characteristic of an individual that is casually related to criterion referenced effective and/or superior performance in a job or situation” (p. 90). This notion is further supported by Cardy and Selvarajan (2006), who found that competencies were the characteristics which could significantly differentiate high-qualified employees from others who showed inferior performance. In short, the competency is “the ability to turn/transform knowledge into action effectively” (Aslan, 2016:13).

Competency models have been proven widely useful as they are in practice among many industries and therefore have become well established (Lucia & Lepsinger, 1999; Lombardi, & Saba, 2010). Similarly, Rothwell and Lindholm (2002) explain that competency models that clarify organisation‐specific competencies improve human performance and unify individual capabilities with organisational core competencies. Furthermore, competency models are being used widely in other areas of human resources management to align the goals of an organisation and talents of its workers. This is further supported by a study conducted by Lombardi and Saba (2010) who identified that best-in-class organisations were more likely to have competency models in place than those that did not.

Heneman and Judge (2009) analysed the literature and identified three key strategic reasons for competency modelling: 1) create awareness and understanding of the need for change in business, 2) enhance the skill levels in the workforce, and 3) improve teamwork and coordination. As a result, a number of competency initiatives have been undertaken in education, training and professional development, especially in higher education.

At the higher education level, graduates are expected to bring current relevant knowledge to the company as compared to those without higher education. According to Figueras-Moreno, (2013) in a survey of employers, indicated university graduates are expected to demonstrate involvement, commitment, and flexibility in adapting to a job. In this survey employers three pre-requisites for graduates which responsibility, self-discipline and integrity. However, Harnandez-March, Del Peso and Legeuy (2009) carried out a mixed-method study involving forty in-depth interviews with HR managers/Directors and from a questionnaire targeting 872 Spanish companies. They found that there was the gap exist between current business needs and the education that graduates have upon entering the labour market. This view is supported by Branine (as cited in Tymon (2013)): “Graduate employers are more interested in personal attributes and ‘soft skills’ than degree classification/disciplines, subjects or university attended” (p. 842).

Tertiary education institutions in New Zealand are also facing increasing demands from employers and other stakeholders. The employers demand that the universities of today should provide relevant skillsets to match their own employer needs. However, the type of skillset required by employers does not match in many cases, what educational institutes are offering to their graduates. There are minimal outputs relating to soft skills such as creative thinking, problem solving, innovation etc (Doyle, 2017). Therefore, this study will serve as an exploratory research for business graduate competencies in meeting the New Zealand public sector needs. These points are also highlighted in the New Zealand Productivity Commission Report – Tertiary Education Issues (New Zealand Productivity Commission, 2016). Hence, the aim of this chapter is to explore the expectations of the public sector employers from the business graduates because the New Zealand public sector is a top employer of business graduates according to the GradNewZealand survey (Wynn, 2020).

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