Recession hits recent graduates

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The Independent Online

Matthew Chapman graduated from the University of St Andrews in June this year with a Masters in ancient history, and is now looking for a job in journalism. Here he describes the problems he is facing.

The skies look black for young graduates looking for jobs in Gordon Brown’s credit-crash Britain, an unfortunate situation when you consider that they are the drivers of a post-recession economy. Graduates are not only facing the immediate effects of the credit crisis, but are also the ones who are going to have to foot the large bill that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are lavishly building up. Reform, an independent think tank, has labelled the current crop of graduates the iPod generation: insecure, pressurised, over taxed and debt-ridden.

The immediate obstacle for graduates is finding their first position of employment in an extremely competitive market. I found this out recently after being rejected for the BBC’s journalism trainee scheme, where there were over 2,500 applications for 21 places. Due to the high number of applicants there is no opportunity for feedback, which leaves unsuccessful applicants back at square one.

For those who are lucky enough to be offered a graduate job, there is still no breathing space in today’s unstable economic climate. By way of example, a friend who graduated this year works for a management consultancy company in London, which recently made five out of eight graduate trainees redundant after only five months in the job. He was lucky enough to remain in employment, as was another friend who, while on a graduate training day with a major UK bank, was told that management had already decided to cancel their graduate trainee scheme for next year.

I must confess to a certain amount of naivety while I was at university, having assumed that a degree would enable me to walk into a job. I urge any current undergraduates to seriously consider their career options before graduation day; it will save a lot of time in the long run.

My current situation, and undoubtedly that of countless others, is actually summed up rather nicely in a song from the Broadway musical Avenue Q. The lyrics hold a deep resonance with the graduate dilemma: “What do you do with a BA in English? / What is my life going to be? / Four years of college and plenty of knowledge / Have earned me this useless degree. / I can’t pay the bills yet / ‘Cause I have no skills yet / The world is a big scary place.”

If I am to progress in the world of journalism it would be prudent of me to do a fast-track journalism course or a year-long postgraduate course, thereby actually gaining some skills. Charlie Ball, head of research at the graduate career agency Prospects, identifies this as a current trend: "Lots of graduates think it's not good to be job-seeking at this time, so they sign up to study for a couple of years until the recession is over," he said. "The sight of Lehman Brothers graduate trainees losing jobs in the week they started was not a good one.”

The situation is bleak for graduates during the recession, but how will graduates fare once it is over? Although housing prices for first-time buyers will fall – as will as interest rates on student-loan repayments – it is highly probable that the current generation will spend their working lives paying off the national debt through cuts in public spending and tax increases.

So, what options lie open to us graduates of 2008? Not many; dogged perseverance is perhaps the best bet. However, I have hit on a scheme to make my degree worth something again; move to the country with the lowest literacy rate in the world. I am sure I could get a job in Burkina Faso – where just 23.6 per cent of the population can read and write – although it would mean brushing up on my GCSE French…

Are you in the same situation as Matthew? Have you had similar experiences? Enter the debate by leaving your comments below.