The future's still bright: Graduate career prospects may not be as bleak as jobseekers think

Lucy Hodges
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:12
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Don't despair if you are a new graduate fresh out of university. This week's depressing news that 69 people are chasing every graduate job needs to be seen in context. It may be a scary job market out there, but it's no more scary than the job market of 2009. And the job prospects may not be nearly as frightening as you think.

That's because this week's survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) is based on a relatively small survey of only 199 employers. They are all the big, well known firms that have graduate schemes. In an economy that is emerging hesitantly from recession it should surprise no one that these schemes are keenly sought after.

What the survey didn't say is that there are a lot of recruiters looking for graduates without offering a formal scheme. These jobs may not be well advertised, and they may not offer fast-track promotion, but they all require a degree and little or no experience. "These jobs are often overlooked because they don't come with graduate schemes," says Dan Hawes, co-founder of the Graduate Recruitment Bureau.

He advises graduates to look at the big picture, do their research, target niche areas and tailor their CV to the particular job they're are applying for. "What you read or hear about the graduate jobs market may only be the tip of the iceberg, as many jobs for graduates are not advertised and remain in the 'hidden' jobs market." His message to parents and their offspring is not to panic, because the economy is picking up.

This is endorsed by Graduates Yorkshire, a website dedicated to matching employers in the region with the best graduate talent around. They are adamant that most graduates leaving university this summer should be able to find employment, despite the message of doom and gloom from the AGR that job applications to the top firms have reached record levels. "The figures don't tell the whole story," says Martin Edmondson, chief executive at Graduates Yorkshire. "More than 80 per cent of graduates find jobs with companies that are classed as small-to-medium sized, where graduate recruitment trends are more encouraging." Graduates Yorkshire has an internship programme and says it has created more than 100 new positions for graduates in the last eight months. "There is support out there, and there are many other programmes nationwide, so it is far from a bleak outlook for talented graduates."

The organisation also has a range of graduate jobs on offer, including a number of positions in the NHS as staff and registered nurses, posts of principal social worker, an engineering job with a blue-chip design consultancy, and an internship with a software engineering company.

The AGR survey reported that the vast majority of employers are closing the door on job applicants who have lower than a 2:1 degree. Again, this generalisation applies only to the leading 199 firms. Therefore the message that has emerged is misleading, according to Martin Patrick of Meet The Real Me, a consultant with 20 years' experience in further and higher education. "It may give students with a 2:2 degree the impression that they have no chance at all in the jobs market," says Patrick. "That may not be the case at all. They may have really good people skills and very good communication skills. They may have entrepreneurial talent and aptitude. Employers are very keen to meet prospective candidates who are able to inspire the people they are going to work with. These young people are young, fresh, dynamic and have a real sense of purpose." Another survey, conducted jointly by the insurance company Endsleigh and the think tank Demos, found this year's graduates remain extremely optimistic despite the recession.

The university world has been keen this week to reassure young people and their parents that it is still worth going to university. A degree remains a valuable investment because graduates earn a considerable salary premium over young people with just two A-levels, according to Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Russell Group graduates can expect to be earning a salary 10 per cent higher than that of their peers.

All universities pride themselves on giving their graduates what are referred to as the 'transferable skills' of working in teams and knowing how to communicate, but some universities are more conscious than others of the need for these skills.

The department of computing at London Metropolitan University has a partnership with Lifeline IT, a small company in Hertfordshire that provides IT support to businesses in the West End of London and the City. It lays on workshops for students to get them ready for the workplace, teaching them how to relate to business clients and how to make presentations.

"We have always struggled to find good employees with strong interpersonal skills," says Daniel Mitchell, founder and director of Lifeline IT. "Most of what we do is face-to-face, and our employees work with our clients." He is proud of one graduate from London Met, Ryan Maphosa, whom Mitchell took under his wing when Ryan was a student. He was given a paid work placement with Lifeline IT and was sponsored through his final year, ending up with a full-time job at the company. Ryan continues to work at the firm as an IT engineer.

"It has worked well for us and for him," says Mitchell. "We're always looking for people softly. If the right people come along, we are always recruiting."

How to stand out from the crowd

Martin Patrick of Meet The Real Me gives his tips for how students can get the edge in a competitive marketplace:

* Go out and get an internship in your third year. This is essential because it will introduce you to the world of work and may lead to a job. Try to make sure the internship is related to the degree you are studying.

* Hone your attitude and your ethos towards work. Many students graduate unprepared for the rigours of the marketplace. Make sure you can present yourself well, that you are able to argue a case, and that you understand the commercial world.

* Acquire the ability to manage small and large groups. If you can demonstrate skills such as negotiating and project management, you will impress a future employer.

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