Recent graduates employ new tactics to tackle the job market

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The Independent Online

With youth unemployment at record levels, young people have been hit hardest by this recession. The situation will be compounded at the end of this month when another year of school-leavers and university graduates tries to enter the labour market.

A group of young graduates has decided to turn what might be regarded as a major social problem into an opportunity. Four twenty-something graduates have set up a networking enterprise called Open Society which aims to bring together 18- to 25-year-olds to collaborate on their own projects, developing their skills and staying sane in the process.

Rather than being stuck in jobs they feel are dead-end, it will also enable them to do something they feel passionate about while they wait for the jobs market to improve.

Nearly one million people under 25 are unemployed. But thousands more are underemployed and have been forced to work part-time or take on a job they really don't want.

So this new group hopes that under-employed and frustrated graduates will set up arts fairs, music and film festivals, offer their skills to local business and sell their own creations on market stalls. Its first arts event will take place in London in September when musicians, film-makers and artists will showcase their work.

The founders plan to expand to Leeds and Manchester soon after.

Annie Broadbent, 24, co-founder of Open Society, said: "We are a collective of young people who, rather than sitting waiting for the problem of the shrinking job market to be solved, prefer to go out and find our own solutions."

Marjolein Dutry, another founder member and a languages graduate from Edinburgh University, became involved after being unable any satisfying work.

She said: "I started work as a receptionist at a dental hygienist. With no skills to learn, no opportunity for development and seemingly no alternative, the job damaged my confidence.

"I realised the frustration of not being able to prove myself in my desired jobs, of needing experience in order to obtain experience. I know this experience [with Open Society] will look good on my CV and help me re-enter the job market with a job that I want rather than a job that I feel I have to do."

Maxim Lester says he applied for around 200 jobs after graduating from Manchester University in 2008. "I worked a number of jobs paying the minimum wage – as a security guard, an usher, as a barista and cook. I spent hours every day on [the website] Gumtree, trawling the community section for internships, projects, bandmates. Working by day in the office, and evenings in coffee shops, we sowed the seeds of Open Society. It was clear we were on to something – almost all of our friends were in the same predicament."

Tom Rendell, who graduated last year from Edinburgh University in geography, said: "At its simplest, Open Society is about creating a group of skilled, dynamic and innovative young people who are willing to adopt a can-do approach to pursue a wide-range of independent projects. The idea is not complicated: it is about realising the resources we already have to hand and making the most of them. It is about working for pleasure and interest rather than simply for need."

They have begun to create "opportunity maps" by scouring local areas for resources that could be useful to underemployed young people: events spaces, pubs with live music licences, galleries with dwindling visitor numbers.

"Assets that are scattered and isolated might seem to serve little purpose, but bring them together with the right group of people and you could be on to something," said Mr Rendell.

"Mutual benefit is at the heart of this project. Small shops may be failing and need help marketing. Pubs may have a gig space but no one to fill it. A company may want a logo redesigned. There may well be people within 100 metres of your door who stand to benefit from your input."

The group argues that people unemployed at the start of their career have a far greater chance of remaining unemployed for longer, and their confidence and skills suffer as a result. Long-term youth unemployment is at an all-time high and there is a danger that an entire generation will suffer from a decline in ambition and a lack of opportunity. Earlier this month, the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed youth unemployment on the rise, with 941,000 16 to 24-year-olds out of work in the January to March period – up 18,000 on the previous three months.

The UK has the second-highest level of youth unemployment in Europe, with only Spain in a worse position.

Last week, a survey of 16,000 final-year students at the UK's top universities found that nearly half (45 per cent) view their career prospects as "very limited". One in three polled feared that last year's graduates would take up most of this year's vacancies. One in six said they would not have gone to university if they had known how tough the jobs market was going to be.