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No more jobs for life - they went out with the milkround

Graduates must become more self-reliant if they want to stay employable , says Roger Trapp
The traditional route for the graduate intent on a career in business was to seek a traineeship with a large company, preferably a multinational with many different divisions in which to gain experience. Such positions were difficult to get, but once there the graduate was pretty much assured of a progression through the organisation. Not any more.

The "milkround", during which graduates are hired by companies at their universities, is becoming less important in recruitment. Earlier this month, the Association of Graduate Recruiters published a report about the extent of the changes.

"Gone is the job for life with its planned career structure and company training scheme. Gone is the clear functional identity and the progressive rise in income and security," it says. "Instead, there is a world of customers and clients, adding value, lifelong learning, portfolio careers, self- development and an overwhelming need to stay employable."

What this means, according to the report Skills for Graduates in the 21st Century, is that although graduate training schemes still exist, "traditional positions will not absorb the vast numbers of new graduates". Instead, young people "will find themselves facing the challenge of a small business or in positions previously filled by school-leavers. Even in the larger companies, decentralisation often means that small company conditions exist."

The obvious consequence of this is that graduates seeking places on the remaining training schemes will have to be more impressive than their predecessors. As well as displaying strong academic qualifications, they will also have to demonstrate a commitment to the sort of work they are applying for - through holiday jobs or work experience - and exhibit formidable "interpersonal skills".

As the AGR report says, "the most significant challenge for graduates will be to manage their relationship with work and learning". This, it says, requires such skills as negotiating, action-planning and networking as well as self-awareness and confidence.

Such attributes will help graduates to become "self-reliant" in their career and personal development. And, according to a recent book, New Deals - the Revolution in Managerial Careers by academics Peter Herriot and Carole Pemberton, this is the key to the future. The "psychological contract", under which employees offer loyalty and commitment in return for progress and lifetime employment, is being replaced by what they call "new deals". These are ad hoc arrangements negotiated by people who know their own worth.

Even at companies such as Shell, which are noted for their training schemes and the perception that they offer jobs for life, there are signs that younger managers are resisting the policy of being sent around the world in the interests of the company's development programme.

Shell says it still hopes to retain the best and points to the fact that while the average company has only about half of its graduate intake five years on, it typically keeps three-quarters.

Other big recruiters of graduates, such as accountancy firms, appear to be seeking to match this record by scaling down their recruitment. Firms such as KPMG used to recruit hundreds of graduates a year as what was cynically termed "audit fodder", safe in the knowledge that many would leave for jobs in industry before decisions had to be made about their future. Now, as KPMG senior partner Colin Sharman points out, all graduate recruits are seen as potential partners.

What makes the situation more tense is that not all of them are going to make it.