The traditional image of someone who has gone straight to university from school will have to change as more 25 to 35-year-olds enter higher education through colleges and arrive with substantial job experience. "The kind of careers advice we will have to give is entirely different," Mr Neil said.
Speaking ahead of his committees' report on lifelong learning, now delayed until October, Mr Neil said there should be less pressure to go straight to university. One of the problems was that graduates were of little immediate use to employers because of their narrow experience.
"What I hear from employers is that the students are very well grounded theoretically but they do not have any practical experience and it could be a year or two before they get any return. They are not ready for a job," he said.
This point was echoed by Andrew Cubie, former chair of the CBI in Scotland, whose report on student funding paved the way to end tuition fees. "The graduate community is not regarded by employers as oven-ready," Dr Cubie said. Across all job sectors, employers highlighted the inability to write clearly or work with figures, poor presentational skills and lack of commercial awareness, poor teamwork and lack of motivation and work experience.
Employers wanted staff who had a desire to learn, were flexible and disciplined, honest and had the basic skills to go with personal qualities. Attitude was the key.
Mr Neil appealed for far greater entrepreneurial skills. Graduates when they did set up businesses tended to establish new enterprises at the cutting edge.
The SNP convener also wants information about the whereabouts of graduates four to five years after leaving a higher education course. This would help stop the damage to Scotland of the "vicious cycle of graduate emigration".