What I would do to help graduates get jobs if I was made a university vice chancellor tomorrow morning

So now the truth is out, that 30% of graduates never enter the “graduate” level workforce. So says the 20-year analysis of the UK’s labour force data by Elias and Purcell (Warwick Labour Force Survey) presented at the recent Westminster Forum on Graduate Employability, and if so then the current system of careers help and guidance needs a complete overhaul.

Let me make it clear from the outset that I am not blaming individual careers guidance personnel or indeed their departments. I have met many of them in the course of my work and they are well-intentioned, hardworking people, dedicated as best as they can be to trying to help.

But if a very well staffed careers guidance centre has 40 employees then how can it possibly offer in depth help and advice to 24,000 undergraduates, not to mention 5,000 postgraduates? This is especially so when currently around 7,200 of them are not going to get a decent job afterwards.

The scale of the current problem is huge and it is not going to go away.

This is what I would do if I was made a university vice chancellor tomorrow morning.

  1. Even before the student arrives at university I would be contacting them (and their parents too if both of them wanted that) to inform them that not only would they receive a first class academic education but they would also receive a first class employability education as well.The format of this would then be given to them immediately after Fresher’s week. Their 3-year employability learning plan would be delivered in both an e-learning and hard copy format.
  2. The opening chapter would set the scene by informing the student that in order to prosper in today’s tough postgraduate world it is not sufficient to just get a decent degree. Students will need to acquire and be able to demonstrate via their CV and in interviews that they are proficient in all the 10 hard and soft employability skills employers want to see.
  3. The only way they will be able to acquire these skills is via internships and active participation in university life. Students should be told that without decent non-academic work experience then getting a decent job afterwards will be just about impossible.
  4. Over the course of their 3 years they will need to gradually build up these skills. They are going to need mentoring, both real and virtual. The coaching will have to have one-to-one interactive components, not just via e-learning modules and lectures. This is especially so since you would not expect anyone to reach expert level at anything unless they had a proper integrated complete programme of help.In all elite sports these days the athlete is given a complete roadmap to how he or she can become successful. Every student needs such a 3-year roadmap and then a complete integrated package of help to achieve their aims.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, universities can not be expected to help every single student to get internships and/or learn the necessary soft skill sets by partaking in the non-academic side of university life. What they should be doing is showing students how they can help themselves to acquire the necessary on-the-job skill sets they will need.

At last, the truth is out: 30% of graduates never get a graduate level job

For years, those trying to help graduates get a good job have been trying to decipher the welter of graduate employment stats that are produced by various organisations. I have always felt that the numbers of graduates who never gain “proper” employment has been seriously underestimated. Possibly, some of this obfuscation has been deliberate policy on behalf of successive governments who for years now have been preaching that graduates (by implication, all graduates!) earn a hefty premium over their working lifetime.

Now the real numbers in stark detail have been revealed at a recent (really excellent) conference on graduate employability put together by the Westminster Higher Education Forum.

The numbers which were the result of 20 years of data from the Warwick University Institute of Employment Research, showed conclusively that unlike the early 90’s when less than 5% of graduates never entered the graduate level workforce, nowadays almost 30% never do.

UK labour market 1992 – 2013

Jim Gervaise-Brazier
Source: Elias and Purcell 2013 (info based on UK Labour Force Surveys, January – March quarters each year

And of course never will.

This data has never been made publicly available until now but surely the implications for policy makers, students, parents and universities are profound.

Nowadays, even an average 2.2 from an average university in England and Wales costs English or Welsh students at least £60,000 (if they live away from home). This debt will take almost all of their working lifetime to pay off.

And if all they are going to do is to enter the non-graduate level workforce, where they will be paying the loan off until they are 55, then what is the point of them obtaining a degree?

The current system surely needs a radical overhaul.

It is not fit for purpose. All the stakeholders involved (policy-makers, universities, students, parents and employers) need to completely rethink post-18 education.

To do nothing would be scandalous.

Why every graduate now needs to build an employability skills portfolio if they want to stand out. – And 5 ways to get started on yours

From art and design to journalism cuttings, job seekers build all types of portfolios to help them convince a prospective employer give them the job, but few think of putting together an employability skills portfolio.

This is about to change. In today’s recruitment market, where a third of graduates never get a graduate level job and employers place great emphasis on soft skills, an employability skills portfolio is important and will become increasingly so.

An employability skills portfolio will demonstrate that you have some foresight, that you fully gasp the importance of developing these skills in the first place.

The very fact that you’ve even bothered to develop a portfolio will show that you have many of the skills employers look for – you use your brain, you make decisions, and you’re serious about getting ahead.

You will come across as an action orientated person, rather than one who simply drifts aimlessly through life. It will show you’re the type of person that can help a company to meet global challenges with a fresh perspective.

Finally, the very act of building an employability skills portfolio will require you to draw on the exact set of skills and attributes you need to develop, such as communication, resilience and entrepreneurial skills.

5 tips to help you get started on building and shaping your employability skills portfolio

Tip one: Start now

You should start building your employability skills portfolio while in your first year. If you’re a graduate in your second or final year or you’ve already graduated, you can still gain some mileage from having one.

Tip two: Go beyond what’s on offer

If your university is on the ball it will have some sort of employability skills programme or scheme in place. If there is no programme then the university should at least be offering advice, talks or seminars from visiting experts. My advice is to sap up every opportunity the university provides you with but not to depend solely on these to help you develop the soft skills you need. Go beyond what’s on offer and look out for opportunities outside of your department and university campus. You will be able to sell this as a skill in itself!

Tip three: Doing a creative degree? Sell the benefits

Some graduates are baffled about what to do with their arts degree aside from getting a job in a design related field but the truth is that all industries need a little creativity, however uncreative they may appear. Art students can learn to sell the benefits of their degree to any employer just by thinking a little more entrepreneurial.

Emma Hunt, deputy vice-chancellor of Arts University Bournemouth, recently told the Guardian that her students have brought their creative skills to sectors as diverse as entertainment, healthcare and engineering. She said “there are hundreds of examples where design has made product a bit more user-friendly or effective”.

Try thinking outside of the box about ways your creative degree can help you to see things differently. How can it bring something fresh to the job and company? Now sell that.

Tip four: Use your portfolio to work your way towards the career you want

The latest High Fliers research shows that the public sector was one of the largest employers of graduates over the last year. Many of these graduates took the fast track route into teaching via the organisation Teach First, which places top graduates into state schools. However, many of these graduates didn’t go into teaching for life but as a way to develop the skills they need to move on elsewhere.

One recruiter said he wants to work in international relations or politics, the subject he graduated in. He went into teaching because he wanted work that would challenge him and provide the opportunity for him to demonstrate commitment and responsibility. And he isn’t even teaching his degree subject but maths, a subject he studied at A-level.

Similarly, your employability skills portfolio can include a range of careers that will help you to create an exciting roadmap to the career you want.

Tip five: Use industry competitions to develop your skills and help you stand out

Many industries run competitions to help them tease out the best up and coming talent. You could take advantage of these to help you develop your employability skills. These competitions often invite students to work in teams or on their own to come up with a new way to solve a problem or meet a need. One recent design competition invited students to invent a product that could solve a sports problem and they came up with glow-in-the-dark cyc;ist gloves to help keep cyclists safe on the road. And they won. Another student, as part of her third year thesis, came up with an idea for a new type of surgical stocking that would be easier for nurses fit. She has since gone on to win several awards for her product, which is now supplied to the NHS. This week the company Valeo is inviting engineering students to take part in the global Valeo Innovation Challenge to design equipment that, between now and 2030, will make the car more intelligent and intuitive.

Entering competitions like these shows entrepreneurialship, creativity and ambition and, even if you don’t win, can still say a lot in your favour about the type of worker you are.

Is big business missing out on graduates with entrepreneurial flair?

One of the skills that businesses look for in today’s graduate is the ability to be entrepreneurial.

It demonstrates an attitude of ambition and courage, the potential for resilience and the ability to use your own initiative.

Today’s businesses need gradates who are entrepreneurial. A graduate with an entrepreneurial spirit thinks about more than just doing a good job; he or she wants to create impact, great results and a good profit.

That’s exactly why businesses need and want them. Such graduates help a business to meet the demands of current and future change.

But with the increasing numbers of graduate start-ups, and the schemes and events to support them, are businesses missing out on the available talent pool?

Big companies missing out on entrepreneurial graduates

Tom Watson, who founded Kick Startup, a new type of careers fair aimed at entrepreneurial graduates and those who want fund them and to work for them, was employed at IBM before starting up on his own. He said that while he learned a lot at the company it lacked “atmosphere”.

He told the Independent: “My colleagues in computer science do not want to work for IBM. We want something interesting.”

Graduates are also drawn to working for younger startups, many of which have venture capitalists behind them, because they are “genuinely excited about what they do”, in contrast to the standard graduate recruiters you meet year after year at recruitment fairs.

His comments were supported by Alice Bentinck, co-founder of Entrepreneur First, who agreed that “traditional graduate routes are becoming increasingly irrelevant for the new generation”. She said graduates expect more than a “9-5 in a stuffy office”.

Many graduates who can’t get a job become entrepreneurs

There has been increasing evidence of the entrepreneurial spirit in UK graduates in recent years, and usually these graduates have only considered starting up alone as an option because they can’t get a job.

Many universities are setting up the type of events such as that taking place late November at Birmingham University, an event organised in response to “the recent surge in graduate entrepreneurial activity”.

It is a workshop to train students and tutors on how to capitalise on a profitable idea and is being run by business guru and former Dragons Den star Doug Richards.

Doug’s company creates education programmes, events and online support for budding entrepreneurs and has been named as a leading delivery partner for the Government’s Start Up loan scheme.

He’ll be showing graduates how to research an idea, access funding and find jobs.

Is big business flexible enough to compete?

A few months ago, Enternships, a company set up to offer graduates’ access to internships and work experience, told the Independent newspaper that “more and more graduates are reassessing their career options and looking for more entrepreneurial career paths” largely because it gives them the “ability to make an impact and have autonomy in their work”.

This is particularly true of the technology industry where the tech-savvy and bright can start up relatively cheaply.

“We expect to see more graduates, encouraged by seeing more and more of their peers starting business ventures, choosing to work for themselves, rather than fighting each other for existing vacancies,” said Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of PeoplePerHour.

These graduates are looking for challenge. They want to make a contribution and an impact. They want to care about their work. They want fast moving environments and they want to learn. They want a career path in which they have the opportunity to do all of this.

Entrepreneurial events backed by investors and graduate career fairs aimed at young entrepreneurs, such as Kick Startup and Silicon Milkroundabout, are attracting those with an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the equally talented graduates looking for work.

Big businesses are often too slow and set in their ways to respond as quickly as medium or small sized enterprise, but if they want to attract graduates with this skill, even big business like IBM will need to work harder.

Or they may just find themselves competing with these sparky, younger entrepreneurs in the global marketplace of tomorrow.