High youth unemployment means career seekers need to know what employers value most

With college and university students worried about their post-graduation job outlook in an intensely competitive market, it’s never been more critical that they know how to separate themselves from the competition.

In a comprehensive survey, George Brown College asked employers from industries spanning its program areas about their current hiring practices and the skills they prize above all. The results are the latest in a series of employer research studies that began in 2008, with 1000 GTA employers helping the college identify short and long-term trends to ensure it is best preparing students to be candidates of choice as they enter their careers.

Students may be surprised to know what employers value most as they prepare to compete for those highly-prized positions. While employers were honest about the diminished opportunities for young hires in the year ahead, they were also very instructive about how students can set themselves apart. Looking at the year ahead, employers said they planned on hiring almost 10 per cent fewer graduates than they did five years ago. They also said they’ll be hiring more part-time and contract employees and fewer full-time, and that over the next 15 years a third of all current jobs are likely to be replaced by technology.

This means that the savvy student looking to make it to the top of the resume pile needs to take specific action to set themselves apart. George Brown’s research revealed seven clear strategies to earn the favour of future employers:

 1.     Know where the jobs are

  • Pursue a career that’s in demand. In talking to employers across a range of sectors, the most promising fields for jobs are Computer Technology, Business Management, Marketing, Culinary Arts, Engineering and Finance/Accounting.

2.     Job skills might get you the interview, but people skills will get you the job

  • When employers are hiring, they expect candidates to be competent in the technical skills of their field of study – you won’t even get the interview without them. But to stand out from the competition, you also need the people skills employers value, such as a strong Work Ethic, Communication skills, Teamwork, Problem Solving and Customer Service.
  • In fact, employers are now rating ‘people skills’ as the most important attribute in new graduate hires, followed closely by eduation that integrates workplace experience. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s the absence of these skills that the greatest skills gap – not industry-specific technical skills.
  • Customer Service and Problem Solving Skills are identified as most lacking in new hires, Students should focus on developing these to stand out more.

3.     It’s not just about what you do, but how you do it

  • Employers say the qualities they value most include reliability, trustworthiness, accountability, an ability to work cooperatively with others and to listen and ask questions to understand and appreciate others’ point of view.

4.     Take initiative before you graduate

  • Don’t wait until you’re job hunting to take specific steps to stand out with employers. In order of importance, they told us they would favour students who: 1) Meet assignment deadlines; 2) Speak at events or student clubs; 3) Operate a student-run business or have started their own business; 4) Act as a peer coach or tutor; or 5) Participate in faculty or student-operated labs, clinics, restaurants or businesses that provide services to the public.

5.     Don’t overvalue university

  • While university remains an excellent choice, employers told us they plan to hire more college than university graduates this year, and half said they’re hiring more college graduates than they used to.
  • They are equally satisfied with the quality of college and university graduates.
  • More college graduates demonstrate the employment attributes employers value most, but university credentials can still carry more weight.  Take the credential that your targeted employer seeks for the job you want and add to your knowledge over time, as needed.

6.     Get a foot in the door

  • Employers value field placements and co-ops more than in-class academics. So make sure you select a college or university that will give you the chance to gain some invaluable experience that will count toward your credential and show your future employer that you understand the workplace routine.
  • Employers told us they don’t just value students who come to them with experience in the field, they’re hosting almost 10 per cent more field placements for students in 2015 than they did in 2010.

7.     Guard your online profile!

  • While interviews and reference checks remain the most usual ways for employers to evaluate candidates, the next most common method is checking social media profiles and communications. Be careful with the information you and others post online!


The 2015 George Brown College Employer Tracking Study was conducted among a representative sample of 852 GTA employers including human resources professionals (45%) and line managers (55%) across a range of industry sectors including Arts, Entertainment, Culture and Performing Arts, Business, Community Services and Early Childhood Education, Construction, Engineering and Architecture, Health Sciences, Hospitality and Culinary Arts, Information and Computer Techology. The mix of respondents included those in the City of Toronto (57%) and from the GTA outside of Toronto (43%) as well as a mix of small, medium and large sized companies (79% small/medium). Interviews and surveys were conducted during the summer of 2015.

About the author

Karen Thomson


Karen Thomson is Vice-President Marketing and Strategic Enrolment Management at George Brown College, serving in leadership roles for 11 years. Prior to joining George Brown College, Karen held director and vice president positions with national broadcasters such as CTV, YTV and Corus Entertainment. She also spent 10 years branding consumer packaged goods with international advertising agencies and was the brand and planning consultant to several not-for-profit organizations. Karen holds a Master of Science in Marketing and Consumer studies from Guelph University, an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and a three-year Certified Advertising Agency Practitioner diploma from Institute of Canadian Advertising. To learn more about George Brown College, visit www.georgebrown.ca.