3 promising signs for the future of graduate employment

A hundred thousand 16- to 24-year-olds unemployed, 49 per cent of graduates never gaining a graduate level job, and half of employers saying that graduates lack vital work-ready skills – bleak reports abound and yet we see at least three signs that point to a promising future for graduate employment.

With employers keen to find ways to access to the widest possible talent pool and universities knowing that their survival depends on creating better employment outcomes for their graduates, this is quite possibly the best of times for graduates looking for work.

We have seen a noticeable shift in effort with both sides actively looking for ways to create better opportunities for vocational training. It places graduates in a favourable position to get the help they need.

Sign 1: More employers and universities are working together, better.

We have seen a renewed determination from employers to work more effectively with universities to help graduates develop the skills they need for employment. Universities and employers have been working together for years but with little progress and often with both sides feeling that the other should do more. Recent research from City & Guilds shows that more than half of the employers surveyed would like to be more involved in developing qualifications to build a stronger link between education and business needs, and almost 80 per cent of employers believe that work experience is essential to get young people ready for work.

Sign 2: More programmes to help graduates become work-ready.

This is leading to an increase in the number of programmes to help improve the quality and range of ways young people can acquire the skills they need. One of these is the Financial & Legal Skills Partnership’s (FLSP) Graduate Foundation College (GFC), aimed at those who have graduated but are still struggling to secure full time employment. The GFC gives initial training to graduates before a three-month internship at a financial advisory firm and is part funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). There are also virtual programmes like GetInGetOn, a programme that enables young people to find out more about the financial services and to develop the skills and knowledge that employers want via e-career mentors. Another would be the University of East London whose careers centre are doing some rather innovative things to help Graduates into jobs.

Sign 3: More and better quality internship training programmes

Another promising sign is better quality internships. This week, the FLSP joined the call for companies to pay greater attention to the benefits that can be created by paid internships. They said more companies, including SMEs, are looking at creating internships opportunities. This is particularly good news for graduates and could change the face of internship training where this method gaining the experience you need to get a job is no longer looked upon as the poor cousin of the graduate programme. Just a few weeks ago during a gathering of universities and employers this question around quality paid internships was also raised. Employers and recruiters are saying that if we are serious about helping graduates to skill up then we need to create an internship culture that can meet their needs.

If every company took just one apprentice or intern, it would instantly address the youth unemployment level, which is still unacceptably high,

It would also help companies to adequately plan for growth in a recovering economy, buoyed by talented young people with sights set on success.

Liz Field, CEO of the FLSP

We are pretty confident that activity in these three areas will increase as firms and universities look for ways to solve the problem around graduate recruitment. It is in the interests of both sides to work together to create opportunities for graduates to develop the employability skills they need. This can only spell good news for the future of graduate employment.

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Is there a roadmap to getting a graduate level job

Many undergraduates still have the idea that if they want a good job they simply need to get good grades, go to university, get more good grades and then wait for an employer to snap them up.

If only getting a graduate level job was that simple. Developing the talent you need to get a top job has become a much more complicated process, and graduates aren’t the only ones baffled by the challenge.

Three things became very clear during a recent event organised by London Higher and hosted by Barclays to discuss how to help graduates develop the skills businesses need.

  1. We haven’t moved forward over the last five years. While universities and employers are working together to help students get jobs both sides are still asking the same question as five years ago – What’s needed to prepare graduates for the workplace? In 2008, the CBI, which represents business interests, said there was a need for employees with higher level skills. In 2013 they are still saying the same thing, so there are still gaps in our knowledge about what works best.
  2. Employers are feeling the pressure. From your multinational employer like Barclays to your small to medium size employer like Z-Cards, employers are still struggling to find the best talent. Businesses are desperate for talent that will help them remain innovative and competitive, for forward-thinkers with fresh ideas that will help them to grow but the resources needed to scout out the best talent are limited.
  3. Careers services are feeling the pressure. Many universities are also struggling to prepare their students for top jobs. When you have 27,000 students and 30 advisers working in the university careers department it is impossible for staff to provide the individualised one to one coaching needed to help graduates prepare for work. It is no wonder then that 85 per cent of UK students never attend their career service…

The solution: Roadmap to a graduate level job

It has been clear to us for some time that there is a roadmap to getting a graduate level job. If a graduate is unaware of this then he or she is going to struggle terribly to find a job on graduating. The roadmap should start at the very latest from the moment you start university but ideally well before while you are still at school.

A common sense name for this roadmap is a ‘graduate work plan’. It should work in the same way as your three-year career plan, with milestones and signposts to help a graduate navigate his or her way towards identifying and developing the essential skills and aptitudes needed to find graduate level employment.

Graduates need to be proactive

Another thing that became apparent when our group of employers and universities came together is that each side thinks that the other should be the one doing more. Employers think it is the role of universities to supply them with work-ready graduates, while universities think employers need to play a greater role to help graduates develop the skills businesses needed.

Graduates cannot wait while employers and universities continue to debate this problem. They must go out and acquire the soft skills needed. The best universities are those that clearly communicating this crucial message to their students with a mix of provision and opportunity for them to develop employability skills.

One example might be Ravensbourne, which gets 90 per cent of its grads into work by the time they graduate. That’s pretty good considering that 49 per cent of graduates never get a graduate level job. The university has a programme that starts getting them industry ready from day one by looking at everything from CV development to networking, special events to opportunities for students to get out into the workplace to do short bursts of freelance jobs. It means that by end of the three years they are already out there working.

Another example is UEL. The university has a credit points system to encourage their graduates to develop the employability skills they need. The process is self-perpetrating since in order to be successful at it you need to use the very skills it is trying to encourage you to gain – self-motivation, problem solving, initiative, resilience and the like.

Then there is Greenwich university which has an innovative programme with a Reed employment office on campus dedicated to getting graduates jobs.

It is this type of roadmap approach to preparing graduates for work that we excel at here at Graduate Coach. We create individualised career coaching programmes for graduates, which essentially telescopes all their learnings from their degree and various work experiences into a new comprehensible CV that emphasises their CBI soft skills.

We then work with them to work out what they would be good at, help them apply for jobs, show them where to apply and last and most importantly of all, coach them in interview techniques.

It is because we help graduates demonstrate the skills employer wants why we have a 100 per cent success rate at helping graduates find good jobs.

What would you consider to be a positive outcome after leaving university?

I think a positive outcome should mean only one thing: landing a graduate level job that pays a decent salary and allows you to develop the skills you gained throughout your years at university.

Surveys carried out to measure positive outcomes for graduates after university don’t quite look at it this way, however. They tend to define a positive outcome as meaning you go on to further studies or employment.

When graduate outcomes are lumped together in this way it masks the true picture of university employment success rates, and the quality of their careers services.

I don’t agree that they should include further studies – but that’s okay because the surveys don’t agree with each other anyway.

Experts disagree on graduate job success rates

The Lloyds Bank University Quality of Student Life survey of just a week or so ago shows that those students who go to Glasgow Caledonian University come out on top with 96 per cent from the academic year 2011/12 landing a positive outcome.

A YouGov survey, released a few weeks before the Lloyds one, shows that it is the graduates of Imperial College that tend to come out on top when it comes to leaving university.

We need a better measure of positive outcomes for graduates when it comes to employment because that’s why students go to university in the first place.

And just as such a measure shouldn’t include further study, it shouldn’t include menial jobs either. Graduates don’t go to university in order to land a menial job (why would they spend three or four years studying for a job that doesn’t need those qualifications?), although I do believe that recent comments made by Mayor Boris Johnson, that graduates shouldn’t shun those jobs they consider to be below them altogether, have some merit.

The merit in Boris Johnson’s comment

Boris was picking up on what Jamie Oliver previously said about Eastern Europeans being harder working than British kids and how his restaurants would close down without them (another topic entirely). Boris “urged young people not to dismiss certain jobs as beneath them but to see them as ‘stepping-stones’ to greater things”. His comments have some merit in them in as much as such experiences can be certainly considered useful in helping a graduate build the skills he or she needs to move forward. But that’s all.

As we may recall from the YouGov survey, half of employers say graduates are not work ready when they leave university and the top rated universities aren’t necessarily getting that any better than their lesser competitors. That’s because graduates need help to create those stepping-stones to get the jobs they want.

A league table that measures outcomes for graduate level employment

My overriding view is that we urgently need a league table for students’ opinion of how much help they get to find a graduate level job, since ultimately this is what matters most to them.

It should show a breakdown of what universities are doing to help graduates find and prepare for employment, and measure the quality of their careers service support.

Then we can really see which universities do manage to get graduates jobs and, hopefully, build a good picture of those that provide the best employment outcomes rather than those that bury the figures by mixing it up with results on further study.

After all, it is far easier to get a menial job or to get onto a postgraduate level course than it is to land a graduate level job straight after leaving university.