What skills does EY look for in its graduates of the future?

There are five new skills and competencies EY is looking for in graduates as the global firm successfully adapts to a number of market challenges as well as operating in a COVID environment

EY – like many other organisations – has been challenged by the events of 2020, and the firm has reviewed what skills and competencies it requires both now and in the future, said Sarah Perrens, Oceania Campus Recruitment Lead for EY.

As well as the skillset the firm would expect in any graduate – including communication, teamwork and problem-solving, Perrens said EY now assesses graduates for a range of other skills and competencies. These include adaptability, being a virtual collaborator, drive and resilience, learning agility, and being technology-focused (the ability to keep abreast of new technologies and how they can practically be applied), Perrens explained.

These skills and competencies are critical to meeting ongoing and emerging challenges which the firm is facing, and Perrens said EY has taken a collaborative and agile approach in the process. “We have an unprecedented level of collaboration not only between different teams, but between different offices. We have a whole of firm approach to servicing clients and this is supported by an agile workforce,” said Perrens.

EY is now location agnostic as to where it staffs a team from and where it delivers on client engagements, Perrens said. “We can easily redeploy talent from one part of the business to another, for example, from talent development to audit, core consulting to FS consulting,” she said.

“We have all proven that we can exceed clients’ expectations fully from home. This has changed the way that we collaborate going forward. We’ve proven we can adapt no matter what the need is, so it is imperative that we continue to adapt going forward.”

How the business landscape has changed

COVID-19 has had a far-reaching impact on many sectors and industries. For EY, Perrens said the business landscape has completely changed in some respects, but in other respects, it hasn’t changed at all. “For example, we’re seeing demand for technology consulting and experience, while demand for mobility and immigration services has reduced as you would expect given the border closures,” she said.

The firm’s employees have not travelled since March, however, Perrens said this has not impacted connectedness with clients or each other. “It is highly likely that our reliance on virtual tools will remain and there will be less travel in the future,” said Perrens, who highlighted associated benefits including cost, wellbeing and a reduced carbon footprint.

Real estate requirements will also change with more people electing to work from home on a regular/permanent basis. “We may even be able to look to hire in regional communities as the need to be present in an EY office is now not a requirement,” Perrens added.

“While our way of doing business has changed, and some of our offerings have changed, we are still adding the same exceptional experience for our clients and helping them solve business issues that need solving.” EY has a broad range of clients and Perrens observed that, from a business perspective, some are thriving and continuing to grow in the COVD-19 environment, while others have experienced a significant downturn.

“Supporting both ends of the spectrum is a continual challenge, but one we are succeeding with. We are finding the clients are welcoming conversation around transformation and automation,” she said.

Successful graduate recruitment at EY

While COVID-19 has had an impact on graduate placements at EY, Perrens said graduate recruitment continues to remain a key strategic priority of the firm. “We have needed to review hiring for next year and have found numbers have slightly increased in some areas such as financial services and decreased in others such as immigration,” she said.

Notably, all graduate offers for the year were honoured and several cohorts were onboarded completely remotely. “We’re currently planning to onboard our vacationers in a blended virtual and face-to-face program and will likely need to continue aspects of our virtual recruiting activities into 2021,” said Perrens, who pointed to a need for certain future-oriented skills.

“We are seeing an increasing demand for skills in data and analytics, and staying abreast of new technologies such as automation, robotics and AI. Skills including creativity, problem-solving, adaptability and resilience will be paramount in the future,” she said.

“At EY we are also upskilling our workforce with future skills in the form of what we call EY badges, which staff can work towards including transformative leadership and design thinking, to ensure staff remain relevant for the longer term. We all need to become continuous learners to future proof our careers.”

Helping graduates become work-ready

All strides that universities can make to help produce work-ready graduates are incredibly valuable for industry, according to Perrens, who also served as the industry representative on the Academic Program Review panel for UNSW Business School, which recently redesigned its Bachelor of Commerce to equip gradates – even more than now – with the work-ready skills and competencies Perrens mentioned.

Mark Uncles, Deputy Dean (Education) and Professor of Marketing at UNSW Business School, says an important skill is cross-functional thinking and the ability to see connections between areas of business which may otherwise appear to be unconnected

The Business School engaged a wide range of employers such as EY as well as its Business Advisory Council (which includes Board Directors and C-Suite executives from some of Australia’s top listed companies, regulators and public sector organisations) to better understand their business requirements.

This exercise was immensely valuable in understanding the challenges that graduate employers are facing and the skills required to meet their needs, said Mark Uncles, Deputy Dean (Education) and Professor of Marketing at UNSW Business School.

“In redesigning the flagship undergraduate Bachelor of Commerce program, employers and Business Advisory Council members have really drawn to our attention to the importance of skill and capability development,” said Professor Uncles, who echoed Perren’s comments and underscored the importance of work-ready skills such as communication. He said this extends beyond simple oral and written presentation to areas such as commercial negotiation and being able to support an argument through the visual presentation of data using Tableau and PowerBI, for example.

Another important skill is cross-functional thinking and “the ability to see connections between areas of business which may otherwise appear to be unconnected – for example, something might be seen as a finance problem, but also demands an understanding people, management and organisational issues”, Professor Uncles said.

Other valuable skills incorporated into the program include teamwork and collaboration to address practical business problems, data analytics and visualisation, well-developed levels of cultural competence, business ethics and leadership. Digital badging and e-portfolios will enable students to track and report on their achievements.

“In the redesigned Bachelor of Commerce we are embedding all of these skills and competencies, and practical employability features, into the curriculum – they aren’t optional extras, they are built into the fabric of the degree,” said Professor Uncles.

The first undergraduate intake for the Bachelor of Commerce will be term 1, 2021. For more information please visit the UNSW Business School website.


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