UK students fear they don’t have the skills needed for work, says PebblePad study

New research from PebblePad has uncovered that UK undergraduate students are concerned they don’t have the skills needed for the workplace
  • UK students prioritise employability over course content or location when deciding where to study, but don’t feel that their institution will equip them with the skills they require for the workplace.
  • Students prioritise ‘soft skills’ like critical thinking over course specific content when it comes to getting ready for the workplace.
  • Study reveals a ‘skills articulation gap’ where students may have transferrable skills, but aren’t confident they can articulate or evidence them in a meaningful way.

PebblePad’s ‘Careers Readiness’ study finds that two in ten (20%) of current university students aren’t confident their institution will equip them with the skills they need for work. What’s more, fewer than half of students say they’re ‘very confident’ they can demonstrate any of the key skills needed for employment, from critical thinking to digital literacy, discipline knowledge and creativity.

The study asked UK students to talk about what matters to them when it comes to employability – from their ambitions and fears to what they need from their university partners.

Looking at how they chose where to study, PebblePad’s research found that undergraduates prioritise whether the university will help them to find employment after studies (36%) – well ahead of actual course content (28%). However, in contrast, work experience and work placements ranked further down the list of priorities with just 6% of students saying they looked for these types of opportunities when choosing where to study.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, nearly three in ten (29%) students said that workplace learning opportunities were their lowest priority when looking for an institution – below elements like social opportunities. With many employers wanting recruits with relevant experience, and bodies like National Careers Service promoting work-based learning, it’s possible that students need to be better informed about the importance of on-the-job experience in order that they can succeed in their career aspirations.

Students reported that they want fewer exams (more than three in 10 (31%) don’t think that a focus on exams is helpful in preparing them for employment), more authentic learning opportunities and more help building up evidence of their skills and capabilities. 79% of students also pointed towards one-to-one services such as personalised coaching as being important for their employment prospects.

Commenting on the findings, Shane Sutherland, CEO and founder of PebblePad said, “It’s worrying that a large proportion of undergraduate students don’t feel ‘career ready’ and that this uncertainty is pervasive across the life of an individual student’s studies. Indeed, many students aren’t sure what skills they will need for work, and those who do worry that they won’t obtain the right skills from their university degree. More promisingly for the sector though, students are clear about what they do need from their universities– and are indicating clearly that factors like help in evidencing their skills are urgently required.”

He continues, ‘Importantly, the It appears that, more than a ‘skills gap’ – so well reported by industry commentators – we may be suffering a skills articulation gap, where students have plenty of transferrable skills, but are not confident they can articulate or evidence them in a meaningful way. To help address this urgent need, more focus needs to be put on helping students not just build the skills they need for employment but have opportunities to gather evidence and articulate their skills too.”

The report draws on insight from 750 students and interviews with teaching and learning leaders from UK universities to make concrete recommendations on how institutions can support students in their employability journeys in the months and years ahead. To read the full report, please visit

About PebblePad

Founded in 2004, PebblePad is an award-winning Learning Journey Platform, designed to help learners, wherever they are learning (at study, work or play), develop, shape, and share their unique skills and attributes in an ever more competitive world. It’s why PebblePad is fast becoming an integral part of Higher Education institutions’ digital ecosystems across the globe.

Notes to editor:

To build this report, and create a picture of ‘Careers Readiness’ today, we have combined quantitative research amongst 750 current undergraduates, together with qualitative input from university leaders, employers, technology experts and further anecdotal student data.

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