Go Higher: Open the doors of opportunity

Despite the changing labour market, having a degree remains a major advantage. By Chris Brown

So come on then, why do a degree? What is stopping you from simply taking your chances and jumping feet first straight into the job market? After all, employers these days are looking for "communication skills", "team work", "positive attitudes" and the rest. These are not skills to do with your academic ability; rather they say more about your personality and motivation to succeed.

But a degree does more than give you academic training, and will give you the keys to the door of a successful career if you play your cards right.

There is a more confused job market for graduates now than, say, 10 years ago. The explosion of information technology has created a whole new industry which graduates are filling fast. But the massive increase in the numbers entering higher education during the Nineties has meant that many are leaving universities and colleges and starting out in what could be politely called "lower-end" jobs.

"We find graduates are very confused by the labour market," says Tom Lovell, manager of Reed Graduates - part of Reed Personnel Services plc. "There is no set path for them after they leave university. The days when they left college and walked straight into a graduate training programme are over, and with so many more career options opening up, people have to reinvent themselves throughout their working lives to respond to changes in the market."

If it is confusing for graduates who are desperately trying to find work and start paying back those debts, how confusing must it be for those planning on making the jump into higher education?

The good news is, just doing a degree in itself provides you with skills that will get you ahead. Peter Clark, senior policy adviser at the Confederation of British Industry, says: "Graduates have two key advantages. First, during their time at university they have more chance to develop their academic skills. Many employers are still looking for outstanding graduates with high-level academic skills, for example in science and engineering. In this respect, it is definitely a case of quality over quantity.

"Second, a degree demonstrates the ability of graduates to learn. There are many vacancies these days in any discipline. They need the generic transferable skills of team working and communication skills, but to get ahead they need to marry that with the intellectual and analytical skills of their degree to keep on learning throughout their career."

The pace of change in the job market means skills have to be constantly updated, and without the core ability to learn it will be much harder for people to succeed at work. Employers need to get more out of their employees, who need to encompass broader roles and a wide range of skills.

What does this mean for your degree choice though? Should you be looking for a vocational degree or a pure academic path? Mr Lovell identifies a conundrum facing graduates and employers at the moment. "There is a double-edged view as to how business sees graduates. There are those graduates from older universities with good academic degrees, but without some of the key work skills; and those from newer universities who have done vocational degrees, but may be lacking in the pure academic learning skills. We find that some higher calibre people who go to older colleges may be missing out on graduate jobs because they lack some of these key work skills."

It appears to be somewhat of a cleft stick. Whether to choose a good academic degree from a traditional "red-brick" university, or to get those vocational skills from a modern college. But there is no reason to feel confused. Going on to higher education is far more than just getting a job at the end of it. And employers are not cast in stone. Your chances of finding work are up to you.

"It is up to the individual to make choices about what is best for their future," says Mr Clark. "We certainly believe that students can do more to help themselves while they are at college, in terms of gaining work experience. But the most important thing is to get your degree. The degree is still the main purpose of higher education. We don't want students jeopardising their degree in order to get work experience, but if they have the chance we would applaud them as it gives employers a chance to see how the individual reacts to the workplace, their motivation and so on."

The main advice is that a degree gives you the key to the doors of a successful career. But opening the door is not enough. You have to persuade the gatekeepers that you are worth them letting you through. Don't worry though, there is no need to try and be something that you are not. Mr Lovell says: "When graduates start going for interviews, it is important that they are as professional and honest as possible. Employers know they are "green", coming straight out of university, but trying to pretend is not necessary or usually very successful. When employers look at you, they want to see someone who is going to develop and improve: an achiever."

For information on graduate opportunities, call Reed Personnel Services on 0500 35 36 37

The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style

ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Audit Manager Central Functions

To £85,000 + banking benefits: Saxton Leigh: You will be expected to carry out...

Credit Risk Audit Manager

Up to £90,000 + benefits: Saxton Leigh: Credit Risk Audit Manager required to ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week