Let’s look at the new employment figures as an opportunity

On the 16 July, each and every graduating third-year will take part in the quintessential university rite of passage, donning a black robe and cap and ascending the stairs of the Central Hall stage to collect a piece of paper that sums up their three years at this weird and wonderful institution. And yet, while many will throw their hats in their air, ecstatic and ready to face the world of employment, the class of 2010 is soon to be hit with a dose of cold hard reality.

A recent poll of employers has revealed the number of graduates competing for each job vacancy has soared from 48 to 70 this year, while the number of positions available is likely to fall by 7 per cent. Meanwhile, the average graduate salary has remained frozen at £25,000, the first time this have ever occurred. It is a sad fact that we, as highly qualified, yet unemployed, graduates of the post recession age are becoming known as the ‘lost generation’, pushed to the bottom of the employment pile.

Meanwhile, I find it considerably unhelpful that bigwig business figues such as Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, are recommending we ‘flip burgers’ or ‘stack shelves’ to fill our time. What sort of message does this give out to the plethora of ambitious and educated 22-years olds who are facing the daunting world of employment for the first time? While I in no way advocate that graduates should sit around just hoping their dream job will fall into their lap, patronising students and breaking their spirit before they’ve even properly decided on a career path is detrimental to society as a whole.

We are taking the wrong approach to such pronunciations of employment doom. Rather than hibernating in the comfort of their parents’ house, graduates should use this opportunity to take initiative and put their destiny back into their own hands. It is becoming increasingly clear that following the traditional path of entering a law or banking graduate scheme is so competitive and cutthroat that graduates should not see it as the be all and end all of future success, and instead should consider embracing a more original and entrepreneurial spirit.

Use the drive and ambition of your youth, and rather than being conservative about your employment options, think outside of the box. Set up your own business idea even if your main office is your uncle’s garage. Get all your fellow graduates involved. In a recent article in the Sunday Times, they featured two graduates from LSE who, fresh our of university and jobless, set up their own website Spoonfed, “the ultimate guide to what’s on in London”, and have now secured £1m of funding. It’s a heartening tale that is not uncommon across the UK. Be it writing, sewing or a penchant for pottery, channel your skills into a business idea and you could surprise yourself.

We live in a generation of the internet, Facebook and blogging, where anyone and everyone can distribute and advertise freely, meet people with similar ambitions and ideas and those with the money to fund them. The key is to look at such harsh unemployment statistics as an opportunity rather than an impediment. It may seem a naïve perspective to take and one that most would consider far too risky, but with applications figures for firms ranging from Cadbury to JP Morgan to Vodafone being the highest ever recorded, I don’t think there has ever been a better time to step away from your preconceived ideas of graduate employment and pursue another path entirely.

Be prepared, it may not work, after all not everyone is born the next Alan Sugar, but the skills that you would gain from attempting to set up your own business far outweigh those learnt from late night shifts at the local KFC.

Take the jump – you never know where you will land.

9 comments

  1. “Meanwhile, I find it considerably unhelpful that bigwig business figues such as Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, are recommending we ‘flip burgers’ or ‘stack shelves’ to fill our time. What sort of message does this give out to the plethora of ambitious and educated 22-years olds who are facing the daunting world of employment for the first time?”

    A harsh but realistic message, because at the end of the day this is exactly what 69/70 of us will have to do.

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  2. Surely you can’t be serious… yes, some people will be lucky to be successful at setting up their own company, but remember that we only observe the winners. For each successful start-up, there are 10 that fail [not based on a statistic, but you get the point].

    Graduates should try to get any job they can – although flipping burgers may be pushing it. It’s just that high-flying banking/consultancy/FMCG careers will have to wait for a bit.

    Send out as many applications as you can, you’ll get something in the end!

    A.

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  3. Setting up your own business isn’t exactly as simple as ‘taking the jump’. I think that’s quite a ridiculous suggestion.

    And although there are 70 applicants for each place, it must be remembered that people apply to more than one employer – therefore it won’t be 69/70 that will have to ‘flip burgers’.

    Also, it’s not like all 70 of those graduates applying have exactly the same skills and degree results. If you ensure that you get a good degree from a good university, and have relevant work experience/internship, then you have more chance of not having to ‘stack shelves’.

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  4. 7 Jul ’10 at 1:33 pm

    Prof. Dumbledore

    I need a new defence against the dark arts teacher for next year, anyone interested?

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  5. @Really

    I am not entirely sure, but I think that this figure is not about the average number of applications per position, but about the number of job-seeking graduates corresponding to each graduate vacancy.

    At least this is how I understand the sentence “the number of graduates competing for each job vacancy has soared from 48 to 70 this year, while the number of positions available is likely to fall by 7 per cent.”

    I could be wrong (I bloody hope I am).

    @Prof. Dumbledore

    Judging by the fate of your previous employees, I think I’ll pass. Aren’t you dead anyway? http://tinyurl.com/38nbuju

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  6. @George: “A harsh but realistic message, because at the end of the day this is exactly what 69/70 of us will have to do.”

    Sorry to correct you on your bad maths there, but 70 people applying for each job doesn’t mean that 69 will end up jobless, but only that 69 will not get THAT PARTICULAR job.

    eg. If there’s 70 applicants for each job, and each person applied for 70 jobs, then everyone gets one (though maybe not their first choice).

    I’m sure the situation is bad, but I’m also sure that due to all the recession talk, people apply to more jobs “just in case”, meaning statistics like the Guardian’s headline yesterday are even more pointless.

    But maybe we can all get jobs in HR departments, looking through the hundreds of applications..!

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  7. I don’t think you’re quite grounded in reality.

    Setting up your own business after graduating is no easy task. It sure as hell isn’t as easy as just meeting people with money, telling them your idea and then watching the advertising revenue flow in.

    You’re a graduate. Unless you’ve thought of something truly brilliant then no serious investor will waste their money on your idea especially in this climate.

    The suggestions in this article are quite absurd to be honest. The way forward are internships and starting from somewhere lower than you’d otherwise consider I suppose.

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  8. @AA

    As I said, it depends on how you interpret that number. If it’s the average number of applications per graduate vacancy, then you would be absolutely right. However, the sentence “the number of graduates competing for each job vacancy has soared to 70 ” could also be taken to mean that there is one graduate vacancy for every 70 graduates.

    The first interpretation would be pretty meaningless and very difficult to calculate (as the number of applications varies wildly depending on the role, place and employer) so imo the second interpretation is more likely to be true. I hope I am wrong.

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  9. An obvious business opportunity for students is to create a forum where students can discuss jobs opportunities directly and collectively with employers. They’ll save a lot of time. For each job, an employer only needs 2 people to make an efficient choice (and 4 to 5 if they don’t believe research evidence). The rest of this application activity is wasting every one’s time and DWP should have stepped in a long time ago.

    This is only one business opportunity, however. What about other students?

    I don’t advise graduates to flip burgers unless you intend to go into catering/fast food/retail etc where hands-on experience in this field will help you later. Burger flipping experience will also be helpful for any business where time cycles are tight, or in a business where work is specified precisely or where the industry hires a lot of entry level workers. You get the point.

    I recommend students work out the career that they do want to have, list 10 firms that work in that area and go to them. I know it is hard to marry JSA with volunteering to work for free but you can probably figure something out when you know which 10 firms are working on what you want to work with.

    By all means, email me for further brainstorming when you’ve got that list!

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