Companies slow to employ highly qualified graduates

Despite significant investment in advanced training in Portugal, barriers have been identified which prevent the recruitment of post-graduate professionals in Portuguese companies. The main problems relate to the companies’ capacities to afford and to integrate such highly qualified staff, as well as reservations about the particular characteristics of post-graduates, such as a possible lack of flexibility and academic orientation. Nevertheless, companies do recognise the potential value of post-graduates as possible agents of change in terms of innovation and technology.

During the last decade, substantial investment has been made in Portugal to promote advanced training of graduates in science and technology, leading to masters and doctorate degrees. In 2005, the Institute for Quality of Training (Instituto para a Qualidade na Formação) carried out a study within a set of 52 companies that employ post-graduates, aimed at exploring how companies manage this category of staff and at evaluating to what extent companies are using their skills and competences.

Some two thirds of the companies surveyed had employed professionals with doctorate degrees, and only half of these companies had a specific research and development (R&D) department.

Barriers to recruitment and integration

A further set of 57 companies without any post-graduates in their workforce agreed to indicate the main reasons for not having contracted this category of staff, with just over half (55%) of these enterprises stating that they simply did not need staff with that level of qualification. This may be regarded as a valid explanation. However, it is possible to identify certain resistance factors among the 35% of these companies that mentioned having some doubts about the benefits of hiring post-graduate workers, or among the 16% of enterprises that would like to recruit from this group but still find some obstacles preventing them from doing so.

Among the major doubts that companies expressed, the problems identified related both to the company’s capacities and to the individuals’ characteristics. On the one hand, about half of the companies considered that they did not have sufficient activities to justify employing a post-graduate professional full time, while 40% of the respondents considered that the company would find it difficult to invest in additional means to benefit from the work of a post-graduate employee. On the other hand, more than half of the companies feared that such professionals would lack the flexibility to work in areas not related to their specific training, and just 10% of the respondents feared integration problems in existing research teams.

In terms of obstacles to recruitment, around half of the companies reported having difficulties in finding professionals with the required type of expertise. Other obstacles related to financial resources – 37.5% of the companies would have difficulties in paying the required salaries – and also to the lack of capacity to identify the required qualifications, cited by 31.3% of respondents.

Limited use of post-graduates

According to the study, the evidence points to companies’ scarce or limited use of existing post-graduate professionals. This is mainly explained by the fact that most Portuguese companies still are at a development stage that does not require this type of professional. Nevertheless, certain companies may benefit from recruiting highly qualified staff. In these cases, the main problems identified include:

  • employers’ lack of perception regarding the potential use of such professionals to the company;
  • difficulties in clearly identifying the type of necessary qualifications and also lack of financial resources;
  • a gap between the individual competences acquired and the companies’ requirements, with some concerns about the capacity to properly integrate and use professionals whose image is associated with excessive specialisation, academic orientation and low adaptability.

In respect of companies willing to recruit post-graduates but with scant resources, such as new technology-based companies, the main problem pertains to attracting and retaining these professionals.

Nevertheless, in general terms, post-graduates are seen as possible agents of change, assuming that they possess the knowledge needed to follow the scientific and technological evolution in their knowledge areas and to identify the most interesting developments for the company.

Advanced training policies

Although concerns are growing about the effective employment of the competences and skills acquired by post-graduates, this study concludes that the existing policies regarding advanced training remain overly focused on producing more professionals at this level. Moreover, policymakers do not seem to be aware of how difficult it is for companies in general to absorb post-graduates. Further critical issues in relation to current training policies include the need for greater cooperation with the business environment and a better understanding of the functions in which a post-graduate professional may engage in society.

Methodology

The set of surveyed companies for this study is not representative of all companies employing post-graduate professionals in Portugal. The sample included companies from the services, chemicals, petroleum, paper, and electrical and optical equipment sectors. In all, 52 companies with post-graduate professionals and 57 companies without staff at post-graduate level were surveyed.

Reference and further information

Fontes, M., ‘Papel dos Recursos Humanos Altamente Qualificados na Promoção da Inovação Tecnológica’ [Role of highly qualified human resources in promoting technological innovation], in Lança, I.S. and Valente, A.C. (coord.), Inovação Tecnológica e Emprego – O caso português [Technological innovation and employment – the Portuguese case], Institute for Quality of Training, Lisbon, 2005.

Although companies may be cautious about hiring post-graduates, the transition from university to working life appears to be relatively easy for nearly half the graduates of the University of Lisbon, according to a report based on a 2004 survey on the subject (PT0606019I).

Jorge Cabrita, CESIS

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