Graduates face a tougher time with job applications
Students should get work experience to boost their chances of getting jobs in the downturn, the head of the CBI says.
Richard Lambert says students must get skills and first-hand experience of work while still at university.
Launching a report with Universities UK on preparing graduates for work, Mr Lambert will say competition for jobs in 2009 will be particularly intense.
Of the 581 recruiters surveyed for the report, 78% rated employability skills, such as team working, as essential.
And of the 80 higher education institutions which responded to the report's survey, 91% thought it likely or highly likely their graduates would acquire five out of the seven desired employability skills while at university.
Business and customer awareness
Communication and literacy
Application of numeracy
Application of information technology
The report, Preparing graduates for the world of work, gives examples of how businesses and universities are working together to offer students work placements during their studies and to incorporate employability into courses.
For example, at Surrey University 70% of undergraduates participate in "professional training" or workplace-based skills development, usually as the third year of a four-year course.
This training is open to students studying all subjects, even those not traditionally regarded as vocational.
At Exeter University students are given an "employability matters" handbook every year and across campus - often outside lecture theatres - there is information on employability and careers in every academic building.
Good practice among employers is also cited in the CBI and Universities UK report.
Energy company Centrica offers paid summer work placements to undertake specific projects and the chief executive of marine engineering company Yellowfin works with local universities to encourage entrepreneurship.
Launching the report, Mr Lambert will say: "To say that the class of 2009 won't have it easy after graduation is an understatement - competition for jobs will be the most intense for many years.
"Of course, businesses don't expect graduates to arrive on day one fully trained, but what they do value in graduates are their people skills, a focus on the customer and a keenness to solve problems.
"It's no good graduates regretting not taking up opportunities once they leave university - many universities are keen to help them gain work experience during their degree."
Universities and business must do more to meet demand among students for doing work placements and internships during a degree, he will stress.
Professor Rick Trainor, President of Universities UK, will say: "The report shows how universities - in collaboration with employers - are changing the way courses are taught, building employability skills into the curriculum, and offering placements and career-related approaches to give their graduates the edge.
"Skills and attributes that will help graduates get jobs and manage their careers over a lifetime are being developed as part of the broader higher education experience.
"This is now more important than ever, as universities - and their graduates - will be key to the UK's growth path out of recession."
The report was sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Higher Education Minister David Lammy said: "Graduates need to be equipped with the right skills to succeed in the workplace, and today's labour market is bringing home to students the need to take personal responsibility for developing the skills they need."