The Unemployable Graduate: Who can help?

Having held the position of the unemployed yet determined (and increasingly frantic) job-hunting graduate not so long ago, I can appreciate the predicament that is currently facing the UK’s new and, indeed not-so-new, graduates.  A predicament that is encompassed by a mixture of continual rejection, thoughtless companies that fail to acknowledge your painstakingly thought-out application and, the ever so occasional, ecstatic jumping up and down as you’re invited to an interview.

Knowing I wasn’t the only one in this situation certainly made circumstances bearable as I reassured myself daily that I wasn’t failing and this drought in job offers could be blamed on the ‘economic climate’. However, having now entered a company that holds the current challenges that are facing recruitment at its heart, I’ve realised that the economy isn’t entirely to blame but a combination of factors. The current situation that faces graduates is something that has been brewing long before I entered the realms of higher education and will continue along this path if action isn’t taken.

Whilst recent data from the Association of Graduate Recruiters reflects an increase in opportunities and salaries for graduates, it notes that the job market has failed to keep up with the expansion of university places in the past years. With a loose average of 83 graduates applying for each position, the fight is on.

However, in stark contrast to this statistic comes the one-third of graduate recruiters who failed to meet their recruitment targets between 2010 and 2011. How can this be when graduates are flocking to every available opening? Recruiters plead a ‘lack of suitably skilled candidates.’ A statement that I found to not only be true as I entered the job market but, unfortunately, relevant to me.

Perhaps, as a possible reason behind this, consider the recent study conducted by High Fliers Research in March 2012 that revealed how fewer and fewer students believed universities were adequately preparing them for employment. To emphasise this point further Work’s Head of Research, Marcus Body, remarked that there had been no fundamental changes in the UK’s education system since the time when most jobs were “repetitive, disciplined and formulaic”, whereas now there was a need for people with the judgment, creativity and intellect. Could this be a significant factor behind why 1 in 5 graduates were left unemployed by the end of 2011?

Employers and graduates both consider universities a key player in preparing students for the working world. Despite students believing there are ‘limited’ job prospects for them in the current climate, they still regard their university education as an important step on the career ladder. However, they are calling for universities to take a more active seat in graduate employability. With seven out of ten students stating that a compulsory placement year within a business would help develop their much needed skills alongside their education, the need has come for a stronger partnership to form between the UK’s universities and companies. In an article published by Recruiter magazine in April 2012, Charlie Leake, Arriva’s Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, considers how companies could achieve this, outlining the need for companies to ‘know what a good graduate looks like’ and not just focus on the grade they achieved; to get involved with specific universities that are known to specialise in their field; to offer something of value to students/universities – sponsor a dissertation, offer to give guest lectures, be a mentor; and lastly, help influence the curriculum so that future graduates study subjects which will give them skills in the job market and not just theoretical knowledge.

Marcus Body queries ‘whether employers themselves were perpetuating the need for degrees, and wondered whether they had the ‘bravery’ to offer something better’. Perhaps he is suggesting the need for further and more widely available skills based apprenticeships giving school leavers more options than just a university education; an intriguing idea that some companies are gradually catching on to. Take HSBC, the first UK bank to go down this route, who have introduced an apprenticeship that will not only provide a more viable path into the business for school leavers and they hope, one day, graduates, but also answer HSBC’s need for ‘increasing levels of professionalism, customer service, productivity, motivation, retention and referrals.’

In a climate where graduates fight for even the lowest positions within companies, isn’t it time that more is done to help them achieve in this difficult marketplace? Whilst some companies and, indeed, universities are attempting to right this, many more must follow suit to allow graduates to reach the potential that their university degrees have set them up for.

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