With another university year coming to an end, thousands of students are anxiously approaching the end of their student experience, wondering about the next chapter of their lives. A select few will have long known what they wanted to do next, but for many there are at least some lingering elements of doubt as they tentatively approach the idea of perceived adulthood, and arguably the most important stage of a young person’s life. For everyone, the next part of the journey is unique, and ultimately, what happens next is dependent on a variety of influential factors.
What most embark on after university can generally be categorised into the following. Travelling and expanding ones horizons, opting to stay in education through a master’s degree or PGCE course, or moving into full-time employment. These are the common paths students look to next upon the end of their three or four years of university. Exploring the world, travelling with the new found sense of freedom gained from finishing years of hard work is an appealing thought that some dive straight into. However, these adventures are expensive, and with the shadow of three to four years’ worth of student loan debts looming over them, this may not be a viable option for many upon finishing their degree. Continuing with education is another common choice, such as embarking on a master’s degree. Whether in their chosen subject or in another, the aim is to achieve a degree which sets them apart from others, therefore, giving them a theoretical advantage when eventually moving into the competitive job industry. A PGCE shows strong intentions of becoming a teacher, a career path which in most cases is chosen well in advance of the required training. Soon-to-be graduate Richard McGregor is the son of two teachers, and has long harbored the intention of becoming one himself.
Another option is a Master’s degree, a path which Andrew Boggs is choosing to go down, after overcoming the financial stumbling block many students experience.
For most people though, the next step is to get into the working environment, or at least try to. Coming out of university and attaining a good graduate job relating to the degree just obtained is becoming increasingly difficult for students however. In recent years this has become a developing issue, one which more and more students are having to deal with. Glenn Martin, a 2017 Ulster University graduate in Journalism with Film Studies, with stellar academic pedigree, can testify all too well to this struggle.
Glenn expresses his opinion of how he feels that there is a distinct lack of opportunities for him as a journalist graduate, particularly in Northern Ireland. “I feel like there is a lack of jobs,” and in terms of where he is now, almost exactly a year on from leaving university, he says “I’m still basically where I am when I left.” It isn’t for the lack of trying on Glenn’s behalf however, with a number of unsuccessful job applications and attempts to make it into full-time employment starting to discourage him. Despite keeping himself busy with his part-time shopkeeper job, and his writing projects such as blogs and reviews of new music and films, he admits “I don’t know where to go really next in terms of the job situation.” Glenn’s story is replicated each year by thousands more students, who struggle with this next step. According to The Guardian, around “300,000 students graduate each year from UK universities.” Follow the link to this article to read further on their take on the topic of the struggle from leaving university to achieving a graduate job.
The issue is not as simple as stating that most undergraduates end up unemployed, as this is not the case. From a recent DLHE survey about Ulster University students, they claim that “Over 93% of graduates are in work or further study 6 months after graduating”, showcasing that being unable to find work is not the problem here. But this figure is misleading, with no specific reference made to the work being of graduate level.
The primary issue is actually underemployment, where huge numbers of young people, upon leaving university, end up in jobs unrelated to their degree, often with much lesser prospects and potential earnings. Obviously, the long term aim when planning to go to university is not to be working in a supermarket, restaurant, or similar type of job after attaining an honours degree in the chosen subject area. This is where many students find themselves though, unsure how to make the most of their degree. Matthew Warke, currently working part-time in Asda, expects to remain there for a longer period of time than he first anticipated, with no obvious job opportunities in relation to his degree of Computer Science appearing on the horizon.
An issue within this is the contrasting views as to the causes of it. Students generally focus on issues such as the lack of graduate job opportunities available for them, having to relocate to be closer to potential employment openings (particularly relevant to Irish and Northern Irish graduates), and not feeling fully equipped or informed about what the next steps are for them as they leave university. Furthermore, with most jobs requiring previous experience, graduates often point to this as a sticking point upon leaving university. Having just left university and completing a degree, for many it is unlikely that they will have the necessary prior experience. Therefore, getting a heavily sought after graduate job becomes a more difficult task, and paired with the competition from thousands upon thousands of other recent graduates, many are left empty-handed, wondering what the immediate future holds for them.
On the other hand, employers will argue that they require certain skills to be met to fill their applicancies, and may point to a lack of skills on the part of the graduates as the main cause for them facing these issues in the employment industry. They will set a precedent that a certain amount of experience is pivotal for the positions they are offering, and fundamental for the success of their business or company, therefore, any candidate not meeting their expectations and requirements will unfortunately not be considered for the position. In their eyes, the criteria being set by them is not wholly unrealistic. However, it often results in a “skills gap” between graduate skills and the labour market, leaving large numbers of recent graduates in mismatched jobs. Here, the knowledge and skills they gained from the completion of their university degree are not being fully utilised. A concerning study found that “a third of companies are unhappy with graduates’ attitude to work, blaming their lack of resilience and self-management skills” for this. With the existing divide and contrasting points of view between graduates who are trying to find work, and employers who are trying to fill positions, the results of this study suggesting high levels of dissatisfaction, do not help the matter. In a humbling report featured in The Telegraph, graduates are described as “not prepared for the real world of work” and in desperate need of “ego-massaging.” On top of the difficulty surrounding the transition into graduate jobs, this only exacerbates the problematic situation for students further.
Charlie Taylor is the founder and creator of an award winning student careers app known as ‘Debut’, and he says about the topic: “Clearly, there is a flaw in the British education system, which is leaving graduates in long-term debt without the skills they need to secure future employment.” The seriousness of the circumstances cannot be underestimated. Evidenced by Charlie devoting a significant amount of his time and money to set up this company, the importance he places on helping young people by rectifying this obvious issue is highlighted. Click here to read more from this article. His ideas for what needs to be done to help students when leaving university, easing the difficulty and stress of getting into the highest level jobs, are similar to the suggestions of other reports focusing on the topic. They often centre around putting more emphasis on the careers department of universities, to provide students with more information about their next steps and how to go about them, hopefully easing this difficult transition as a result. More emphasis must be put on assisting students, getting them into jobs matching their skills and knowledge, therefore, addressing the issue of underemployment. Currently, many students’ degrees are ultimately being wasted, and their full potential is not being reached. Without a direct focus to help this situation, more students will experience the same in years to come, and the issues surrounding the finding and gaining of graduate jobs, as well as graduates being overworked yet underemployed, will be made worse. There are strong arguments that this part of a person’s life is the most important period of all, as it shapes their career and rest of their life. Therefore, it should be treated as such. The obvious problems should be dealt with, and students should be helped upon leaving university, rather than hindered, as many currently are. So in conclusion, the question must be asked, “What is being done to help graduates get into employment which matches their undoubted skill and talent?”
By Kyle Anderson