THE BLOG

Life's Not Fair... What Are You Going to Do About It?

06/08/2013 15:20 BST | Updated 06/10/2013 10:12 BST

I was fascinated by a conversation I had with a newly graduated student last week.

During the lunch break of a full day employability session we were running at a London university, he came to me to air his frustrations about the current job market.

The student, who was an engineering graduate with a first class degree, was a month into his job search and losing hope fast. "It was so much easier for people one hundred years ago" he said.

Clearly not short of either academic smarts or common sense, the comment threw me completely. Even a cursory glance backwards is enough to prove that young people today are among the most fortunate in human history. Today, young adults potentially have a limitless future ahead of them. The world is this young graduate's oyster and a universe of opportunity beckons. Yet just 30 days into his job search, 30 days of a record hot English summer when so many have bunked off to the beach, this young man has all but given up.

It has become regular media fodder to bemoan the current employment market for young people. We rattle off the statistics with such frequency that we forget that behind each number is a fresh and eager young person seeing their future and their potential, drift further out of their grasp.

Youth ambassadors and inspirational speakers tour the country encouraging young people to pursue their dreams, to not settle. These are no doubt laudable aspirations, but unfortunately we are setting people up to fail.

I am the first to tell students to not approach the job search as beggars, but the history of work shows that unless we work for a parent or have an influential parent who can clear the path to the top, the path to success is paved with feelings akin to starting high school.

Adjust your attitude

New graduates do not start as CEO; they do not get paid as CEO and certainly won't be treated as CEO. The newbie is the one who makes the coffee and does the jobs no one else wants. To expect anything else is to encourage disappointment and a short and miserable career.

The truth of life, universally acknowledged for generations is that hard work is a necessary (albeit insufficient) factor of success. Worryingly a generation raised on reality television producing overnight "celebrities" and fed a fantasy of the "overnight" business success is rarely advised that life is neither fair nor easy.

Following your dreams is a terrific aspiration. Telling people to pursue their dreams, discard alternatives and never settle for anything less is dangerous advice.

A few months ago I addressed a large group of mature students who were looking to change career direction. One woman approached me and asked my advice - having sporadically worked in retail her entire working career she now wanted to pursue a career in international relations.

Her dream was to work for a specific foreign embassy. Would she consider work experience or volunteering at a think tank or similar to appropriately pivot her CV? No. Would she consider an entry-level role to get her foot through the door? No. Had she spoken to anyone doing a similar role or working at the particular job she wanted in order to get a clearer idea of what she might do to better her chances? No.

The more we discussed, the clearer it became that she had a dream and was fixed and unwavering. But with no experience, no contacts, and no advocates this is a dream almost certain to remain unachieved. Her degree will amount to waste because she, like so many, believes the piece of paper to be sufficient.

Want it? Work for it.

Young people face a tough job market. Increasingly frustrated employers struggle to find suitable workers with the relevant skill set and right attitude.

This paradox is being perpetuated by a national game of pass the parcel of expectation.

Our talented graduates have the right to expect to pursue opportunities; they are entitled to chase the same dreams as their parents.

But it is the pursuit that is guaranteed and not the outcome, and it is the responsibility of all involved in employability to make clear the distinction.

With more people chasing jobs those who possess and are able to demonstrate relevant employability skills have an unfair advantage. Those who can differentiate themselves by having a positive attitude, a demonstrable work ethic and people skills will be in great demand.

In a land where (almost) all graduates with the same degree are considered equal by employers, attitude and creativity will separate the employed from the unemployed. As with property there are only three things we look for in new staff; attitude, attitude, attitude.

Attitude is in the hands of the individuals and hard work is in the eye of the beholder. With so much at stake, employers are looking for a safe bet - young people with the skills and initiative can surely be that.

This is what I told the young engineer - he has all the employability skills, he has the marks, all he needs now is to reclaim his optimism and determination because without those the rest is for naught.