"Are you AMBITIOUS?!? MONEY HUNGRY?!? COMPETITIVE?!? Would you slay a child's puppy to GET AHEAD?!?".
Whilst this might sound like some sort of anti-capitalist cliché from an agitprop film, it is, in fact, representative of the current face of the graduate jobs market.
The conveyor-belt suddenly comes to an end upon graduation, no longer are you able to sit around watching Countdown, studying, writing the odd essay, and being propped up with repeated cash injections as to fund your social-life. The real-world hits you in the face: no longer do you have money just appearing in your bank account to fund your various commitments, most importantly staving off moving back home, and you need something to do, other than sitting around watching Countdown (which becomes less and less socially acceptable until suddenly it becomes fine once again when you retire).
But, never fear; this conveyor-belt was designed with this in mind, along the way you have achieved GCSEs, A-Levels, a degree...truly, you have nothing to dread other than getting old and your alarm clock. Whilst sadly your student life is over, you will soon be working and doing something you might actually enjoy, earning £20,000 or more for the pleasure. That money actually lends the chance of growing maturity through staying out of the parental home, buying a first car, or, at the very least, previously unimagined purchasing power. This is, of course, a process which we all saw on the horizon and is, partly, why we studied at university and worked towards much-lauded academic achievement during our adolescence.
However, in the midst of debates over tuition fee rises, and, accordingly, the standard of university teaching, the current recession has largely destroyed the designed outcome of this process. Whilst the number of students entering university rises year-on-year and fee-rises bring questioning over the worth of this training, little has been done to acknowledge the glaring inadequacies of the graduate job market. There is now a large pit at the end of this conveyor-belt of achievement and, unless you are particularly decisive and savvy, you will be lucky to avoid falling into it.
Recent first-hand experience of trying to enter into the job market, in addition to the difficulties faced by my peers, has demonstrated that a well-respected degree from a leading university is inadequate ammunition for most. The main options open to graduates are, of course, graduate schemes, designed to cater for those looking to make a start in their chosen career; however, they offer false promise.
Firstly, graduate schemes are increasingly competitive, something the Association of Graduate Recruiters has, itself, acknowledged, revealing the daunting reality that there are 83 graduates for every graduate job. In addition, the culture of graduate schemes is misguided. For every graduate, in their early twenties, who has decided exactly which career they want to be in, there are scores of others who, justifiably, are uncertain. Most people study non-vocational and non-specific degrees, and many are probably somewhat idealistic about their future plans. But this is surely not something to be punished; it would be unhealthy and unrealistic to expect everyone to be entirely certain that they want to go into, for example, retail management by the time they graduate.
However, anyone looking for a job in an area they are perhaps slightly uncertain about, and accordingly don't particularly feel enthused about spending two-years tethered to a graduate scheme, but which is, nonetheless, relevant for graduates or at least suitable as a first-step into a career, are now found wanting.
Many companies will only invite graduates onto their tailored schemes, and those without them are, seemingly, ignorant of the worth and potential of hiring intelligent and ambitious graduates. Graduates applying for low-level jobs, even those in administration, are generally required to have specific NVQs or training, in addition to experience, and have their intelligence and potential as a high-achieving graduate overlooked. And employers can, currently, perhaps not be criticised for this; experience and specific skills are more cost-efficient than potential in a recession.
The jobs which are on offer are almost entirely in recruitment consultancy or sales, advertising themselves with the kind of sickly bravado acknowledged at the start of this article. Many of these positions are commission-based and insecure but, most damagingly, introduce graduates to a macho and self-indulgent commercial culture. If this is the future of the graduate jobs market then universities may as well get rid of arts degrees entirely and replace them with instruction in 'cut-throat selling' or 'killing off the competition'.
Graduates, put-off or rejected from long-term commitments to graduate schemes and generally unable to get jobs in less tailor-made positions are left on the scrap-heap. This leads to a continuation of the corporate slave trade of unpaid internships, minimum-wage employment if one can find an employer who is not fearful that their impressive qualifications will lead to them quickly leaving, or even unemployment.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency has released data showing that 28% of 2007 UK graduates were still not in full-time employment in 2011, many opting towards further study, and greater debts, or being forced into part-time or voluntary work. With unemployment rising and high-achieving graduates being forced into minimum-wage jobs in shops and bars, questions about the graduate job market need to be raised when considering the tuition-fee rises and, more generally, about the health of a society which seems to put its young at the bottom of its priorities.
Unemployment and uncertainty are problems for all age-groups and more immediately damaging to those with dependents and financial-responsibilities. However, entrenched graduate unemployment and lack of prospects for the young, especially those with the talent to excel, is damaging for society. If the government, employers, and education bodies continue to ignore it then, in the short-term, antagonism will grow and some of the most talented may choose to move abroad, whilst in the long-term it will lead to a scarcity of talent and will undermine the worth of the British education system.
A society which sacrifices its young has no respectability or sustainability; if 'we're all in this together' then why are graduates, who have followed the path towards success presented to them through their childhood, baring such a heavy share of the pain?
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