Why university students must acquire real leadership skills: new CMI research

21 February 2018 -

UniversityleadersA major new employability report encourages higher education institutions to focus on providing real management and leadership skills for students, as well as workplace experience

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has released new research showing the importance of practical management and leadership skills for employers looking to recruit graduates. Specifically, the research shows that employers want all higher education students to enter work with practical management and leadership skills – not just those graduating with business and management degrees.

The new research comes just a day after the government announce a broad-ranging review of higher education funding and, in particular, pledged to look at access to and funding for non-traditional degree options.

CMI’s 21st Century Leaders report, published with the Chartered Association of Business Schools and Institute of Student Employers, surveyed more than 1,000 managers and 830 students. Among the key findings are:

  • Seven out of ten employers (70%) believe management, enterprise and leadership modules should be integrated into all degree subjects to boost employability
  • 85% of employers want students to have work experience – yet only 29% say they actually offer placements
  • 62% of managers expect graduate recruits to demonstrate professional management skills
  • Two-thirds (66%) of employers want to see graduates achieve professional qualifications as well as their main degree. 
  • Three-quarters (75%) of students say that they look for a combined professional body accreditation when selecting their degree, suggesting that business and management students in particular recognise the advantages of such qualifications.


CMI’s 21st Century Leaders report also reveals new expectations among employers when it comes to new employees’ behaviours. The top five professional abilities employers want in new managers are:

  1. taking responsibility (identified by 60%) 
  2. people management skills (55%) 
  3. honest and ethical (55%) 
  4. problem solving and critical analysis (52%) 
  5. collaboration and team-working (48%)

Ian Myson, CMI’s director of HE partnerships, said: “As the government's review of higher education funding puts the spotlight on crippling levels of student debt, we need to talk about how to support graduate employability. Our research shows that employers want leadership and management skills to be baked into all higher education courses to give students the work-ready skills needed to prepare the leaders of the future.

“Every graduate should leave education with a professional qualification to enhance their employability – and, as CMI’s data shows, it also increases student satisfaction scores for universities. Employers must now work with higher education and professional bodies to create a skilled workforce ready to meet the business challenges of the 21st century.”

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers said: “This report confirms the value of work experience in developing a student’s skills, which is why employers are more likely to hire those who have it. We’d like to see more courses include structured placements with more students encouraged to take up those placements.”

Anne Kiem, chief executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools, said: “We welcome the recommendation to provide management modules across university courses. Business schools are willing and able to collaborate with university colleagues to teach management to students across disciplines.”


The new research follows CMI’s original 21st Century Leaders report in 2014, insights from which contributed to the development of the new degree and master’s level apprenticeships in management and leadership. More than 1,200 apprentices have now started Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeships – and 48% of current business and management degree students actually say they would consider such apprenticeships if they had the choice.

Reflecting the growing appeal of higher and degree apprenticeships, the government’s new review of post-18 education and funding has committed to looking at “how to ensure the market provides choice with higher-level degree apprenticeships and shorter and more flexible courses.”

CMI’s Ian Myson added: “Degree and Master’s apprenticeships combine university study with work-specific learning and development. That helps apprentices apply what they learn straight away in the workplace and sets them on a path to achieving professional status. Universities and business schools are working closely with employers to create innovative delivery models and we now need to build on those innovations to deliver more brilliant apprenticeships for learners.”

For more information visit http://www.managers.org.uk/21CLeaders or follow @cmi_managers #21cenleaders

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