Graduates entering the workplace lack basic skills such as writing and arithmetic, and leave university with poor business awareness, according to CIOs.

A third of’s 12-person CIO Jury IT user panel said they have had problems with the quality and quantity of university leavers when recruiting graduates and a separate report this week revealed graduates from IT courses have the highest rate of unemployment across all degree subjects.

Paul Broome, IT director at, complained about a lack of technical knowledge among IT graduates today.

He said: “Too many know nothing about the basics and therefore have feet of clay. If you never learnt a low-level language you won’t understand string and other concepts fully and if you don’t understand how a gate opens and closes in silicon as the bits pass through you’ll never fully grasp computers.”

Others noted a lack of more basic all-round skills in many new graduates. Neil Harvey, head of IT and accommodation at the Food Standards Agency, said: “My impression from dealing with younger colleagues today is that notable numbers of them lack basic good mental arithmetic, spelling and grammar abilities. It also seems to be regarded as an ‘old-fashioned’ standard – after all, we have spell-checkers and calculators, don’t we?”

Murray Bain, IT director at NHS Direct, said graduate job candidates often lack business awareness and a holistic view to IT as a support function to the rest of the business.

Luke Mellors, IT director at Expotel, said experience is a better indication of quality than any qualifications.

He said: “Individuals without work experience often lack key troubleshooting and environment skills needed to perform even the most basic IT jobs. I look for experience prior to education and even certification as it is the only true indicator that someone can do the job. It’s harsh reality but a reality and necessity none the less.”

The quality of graduates also varies across different universities. Steve Clarke, head of internal computing at AOL UK, said when he recruited for a trainee position at a previous company, the quality of candidates coming from “new” universities in London was poor, with basic language difficulties, a lack of technical knowledge and an absence of preparation common.

Clarke said: “In the end we abandoned our search because we couldn’t find the right calibre candidate. Later we worked directly with the ‘older’ universities and that enabled us to recruit successfully.”

But not everyone had bad things to say about the quality of UK graduates. Graham Yellowley, director of technology at investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International, said: “We have recruited graduates the last couple of years and have been very pleased with their knowledge and attitude.”

Richard Steel, CIO at the London Borough of Newham, said: “We tend to develop relationships with undergraduates early, through work experience programmes, or similar, which has great benefits all round. Technical ability is rarely a problem but candidates’ ability to write effectively remains a problem in all recruitment.”

Rorie Devine, CTO at Betfair, added: “We have found some very talented and committed graduates.”

Today’s CIO Jury was…

Murray Bain, IT director, NHS Direct
Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
Paul Broome, IT director,
Steve Clarke, head of internal computing, AOL UK
Rorie Devine, CTO, Betfair
Neil Harvey, head of IT and accommodation, Food Standards Agency
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis
Luke Mellors, IT director, Expotel
Colin Moore, head of IS, Department for Education and Skills
Richard Steel, CIO, London Borough of Newham
Ted Woodhouse, director of IT strategy, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Graham Yellowley, director of technology, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International