A chance for "the lost generation" to find itself

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The Independent Online

For the graduation class of 2009, leaving university is even more bitter-sweet than previous years. We will experience the usual tearful goodbyes mixed with hope and excitement for the future as well as the relief that the emotional roller-coaster of exam term is finally over.

Yet it would seem for most of us the days of baked-bean diets, Tesco value vodka and reusing tea bags are far from over. Having been tempted at enrolment by the prospect of good wages, steady jobs and secure careers, many graduates are finding the job-security light at the end of the exam-term tunnel has turned into the dark likelihood of impending unemployment. Adding to a year’s media coverage of the doom and gloom awaiting prospective job hunters, the recent revelation that there are 50 graduates now applying for every job is certain to leave a cloud hanging over many graduation days this summer.

Not only are there fewer jobs on offer, but statistics show that of the 300,000 summer graduands, more than half are vying for places on graduate schemes and jobs starting in September. As the majority are expected to attain 2:1 and Firsts, companies have to look further than academia to differentiate between applicants.

However, it seems unless you can speak five languages, run a club for local children, have volunteered in a Mongolian orphanage and pet unloved horses on the weekend, you can’t even get an interview. Even the Stepford students who have managed to do some of these activities are finding that jobs are going to more skilled and experienced graduates from previous years, leaving us feeling rather like “the lost generation” that various sources have prophesied we will become.

Recent Warwick graduate Rebecca Pendleton feels the graduates of 2008 and previous years have the experience we lack: “I certainly don’t feel there’s much chance of a job now,” she says.

Job chances also depend on prospective career and degree disciplines. Many of my maths and engineering peers have secured placements and jobs, but the majority of arts students, with subjects unspecific to a definite career path, are feeling the crunch as administrative and creative roles are cut.

Competition is also steep in the legal sector. Emma James, a Manchester law graduate and prospective solicitor, will start her career in 2011 at the earliest, as applications for training contracts have soared by 150 per cent from last year.

Having been lured on enrolment by the prospect of up to 15 per cent higher earnings than those enjoyed by non-university peers, the class of ’09 are being turned down in droves for jobs, even for those that don’t require any qualifications.

However, maybe the black clouds of recession do have silver linings. In the past, numerous graduates have applied for positions of responsibility, having gone straight from school to university and then directly into the workplace without any kind of travelling or wider life experience. Having to rethink their careers has meant many are considering options previously eclipsed by the all-wondrous City job; the most common being fleeing the country.

Working ski seasons or summer holiday camps now seem to be popular options as is teaching abroad. English and German graduate Sarah Ann Brown is looking positively at the recession, since having felt pressure at university to find a well-respected job, she now “feels free to do something I really want to do”.

Other graduates are finding jobs in fields previously unknown to them or not even considered. Alexis Barber, who graduated in English and creative writing at Chichester University in 2008, applied to numerous jobs that required her skill set, and stumbled across something she loves. “I had no idea conference production even existed,” she says.

People who originally applied to big financial firms are now going for jobs with companies such as Shell, Lidl and Aldi, as all are still hiring graduates for retail, IT and financial jobs with competitive starting salaries.

Graduates are also considering yet further education, language courses or unpaid internships, despite averaging £15,000 in debt (and rising!). In such strong competition with last year’s graduates, it is necessary to become more competitive; deferring the job hunt for a year doesn’t seem such a bad idea, either. The current predicament may also prove good for the future job market, as perhaps the class of ’09 will be more driven, more employable and (hopefully) will grow up with a more acute sense of financial responsibility.

As for me, I am considering several options and trying to avoid focusing on the cloud of recession doom, and rather on the silver lining of long-term career prospects. I like to think that perhaps my generation won’t be the ones who were “lost”, but rather the ones who just had time to find themselves.