Graduate Recruitment: Solutions for the future: Science and technology need problem-solvers, says Philip Schofield

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TO REMAIN competitive in world markets, British industry needs technologists who can apply the latest scientific knowledge to the development of new and improved products, more efficent and environmentally friendly production processes, and better control systems. They must be creative problem-solvers.

Technologists are not concerned only with creating economic wealth. They are also involved in solving many of society's ills. Increasingly they seek ways to control and rectify natural and man-made damage to our habitat. They also strive to solve such major global problems as population growth outstripping food supply, poverty, disease, and the wasteful use of energy and materials from non-renewable resources.

The late Sir Ove Arup, a visionary civil engineer, said in 1971: 'The environment created by uncontrolled industrial processes, the ravishing of our countryside, the pollution, the insensitive building for profit, simply disgust us. To feel at home we must feel the impact of the human mind on our environment, not the mind of the rapist, but of the lover . . . What could save us is also technology, but wisely guided to serve humanity.'

It is estimated that more than 1 million people now work in science and technology in the UK. Last week the Government published its White Paper, Realising our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology, the first such policy paper for more than 20 years.

Among the measures proposed are an annual 'Forward Look' report identifying research needs for up to 10 years ahead and setting out the Government's strategy; a 'Technology Foresight Programme' in which scientists, technologists, government departments and industry will jointly identify priorities; and the creation of a new Council for Science and Technology to advise the Government on research objectives.

From next year the Government also plans to publish data on the movement of scientists and technologists in the labour market. This will not only help education and employers to make better informed plans, but will help individuals with their career decisions.

It is further proposed that there be a clearer first hurdle at the start of research careers, so a Master's degree becomes the normal initial post-graduate qualification. PhDs will be for those seeking long-term research careers. It appears that PhDs face an extra year of academic study and that PhD numbers will fall significantly.

Whatever the long-term impact of these proposals on graduate careers, the short-term outlook for this year's technology graduates who have not yet found a post is not very good.

There is evidence that employers are slowly starting to increase their graduate vacancies, although John Simpson, Director of Imperial College's careers service, has yet to see an upturn. However, he notes that there are still unfilled graduate vacancies.

'We recently wrote to 1,500 employers asking if they had any vacancies left, and quite a lot did, although not in large numbers, and not in technological organisations. The latter filled their vacancies during the milk round.

'The advice I give those graduating next year is to apply early and use the milk round. Those graduating this year who haven't yet found a job should get their applications in before the end of June, because if companies do have vacancies they will be seeking to fill them by the end of July.'

He says taking a higher degree is a popular option for those unable to find employment and suggests this offers three benefits: 'It provides something to do rather than remain under- employed in part-time work, it provides additional skills, and the employment rate for those with Masters and PhDs is very good - so it's easier for them to find employment.'

William Archer, managing director of EMDS Consulting, advises employers on international graduate recruitment. He says the IT industry in particular has laid off a lot of people during the recession, but he is now fairly optimistic.

'Some large recruiters of technologists are getting more confident of the way the market is moving and are starting to increase their numbers,' he says. 'But they are not going public. There's a lot of undisclosed recruitment - especially in the software field.

'IT is becoming much more international. Language skills are important, but not as essential as in other fields.' He advises those able to hold a conversation in a foreign language to consider applying for overseas posts.