‘Generation Jobless’. An ugly term, describing the current generation coming of age into a world with slowing economic growth, and soaring unemployment. Things were going to be bad. Very bad. Jobs would be thin on the ground, and even graduates would struggle - not to find a grad job, but any job at all.
But those days are passed now, right? This fate isn’t something that graduates in 2016 still need to worry about, is it? After all, where there were tempests in the global economy now there are only squalls. Surely the sort of disturbance that you can fight or ride out.
And there certainly is good news on the horizon. A recent report found that large UK businesses would be taking on more graduates than ever before in 2016, more even than in the pre-recession boom years. In fact, the very top of this year’s graduating class, who have both the skills and qualifications that are so sought after in the jobs market, can expect to get multiple offers, as big recruiters fight to land the very best of the best.
The Fight For Top Jobs
A lucky handful of the class of 2016 will find the employers fighting over them, but the spectre of youth unemployment has not completely gone away, even for graduates. It is no time to sit on your laurels if you are about to enter the workforce, and simply having a degree is no guarantee of a job upon graduation.
There are still many reasons to sound a note of caution when it comes to finding a graduate job. While employers will be fighting over the top candidates, they will be those who have well rounded experiences and qualifications - up to a third of the new positions that are offered this year will go to candidates who have already worked in the business, either as an intern or as part of a placement year. If you do not have work experience, things could still be tough for you.
And the sort of work you aspire to matters more than ever, too. With some sectors of the economy still suffering, and oil, gas and manufacturing still turbulent, there is increasing pressure on roles outside of these industries.
Add to that the fact that graduate roles are urbanising, meaning that candidates might need to move to a big city to find the right job - and bear the additional costs that come with living an urban lifestyle, and you can see why there is still a fight for the more appealing of positions.
Intern to Win
Research by High Fliers shows that half of all recruiters are looking for work experience when they assess potential graduates. The message is stark - if you do not have hands on experience like that afforded by an internship, placement or voluntary work, then you have little to no chance of getting a graduate position this year. Figure out the best way to get hands on experience and then turn this into a full time job after graduation.
Part of the shift to this recruiter attitude stems from the fact that most of the UK’s leading graduate employers - over 90% in fact - one offer paid work experience programmes for students and recent grads. There are over 14000 opportunities across the UK, making it more realistic than ever for all candidates to get this exposure before applying, and more likely that employers will not settle for candidates who have chosen not to take on work experience during their university experience.
Additionally, 75% of employers who recruit graduates also offer holiday internships for students. While these used to be offered more or less exclusively to penultimate year students, more and more companies have grown wise to the need to identify top talent early, and are offering internships, introductory courses, open days or taster experiences for first year students. There really is no excuse for missing out on this vital experience.
The Soft Skills Shortage
So what is at the root of this demand for work experience? The UK is suffering a soft skills shortage, which is getting worse. Three quarters of recruiters say that employees already lack these skills, and economists predict that up to half a million employees will be held back for a lack of soft skills by 2020. This could be the real threat which causes the fabled ‘generation jobless’.
A recent consultation paper categorised the array of ‘soft skills’ that employers might look for into 5 areas:
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Decision-making and initiative-taking
- Time- and self-management
- Taking responsibility
It might help if you understand what graduate recruiters really want. Employers know already that they are working with unshaped, raw talent when they look for graduate recruits. Work experience is not really about gathering knowledge about specific office processes, company IT systems and protocols, or even how to apply your degree learning in a real life situation.
It is about demonstrating that you have, and can develop these soft skills. Role specific knowledge can be taught once you are recruited. HR and training departments are there to support with the transition from university environment to a working life - but ‘soft skills’ are notoriously difficult to train if they are lacking or underdeveloped to start with.
The fact that there will be more graduate roles open this year than ever before is encouraging. Big employers across public and private sectors want graduates to come on board, and this potential-led entry level recruitment is the backbone of their resourcing strategy.
For students and new graduates who have used their time at university to develop their academic skills alongside building an exposure to real working environments, this is encouraging news. Generation jobless will feel like an alien concept to the highest achievers in both academic and soft skills, who are passing out of the system this year. But don’t think this phrase is going away just yet.
If you can’t confidently describe examples of the five areas of soft skills named above, from your part-time, voluntary, intern or placement work experience, then you have no time to waste. Grad recruiters have spoken unequivocally - they want work experience in their candidates. Drop what you’re doing. It is time to start searching for that next hands on internship opportunity.