Students who graduate into a future of revised expectations

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THE days when people had a job for life with the same company have long gone.

This may have been the case 40 years ago, but times have changed and the recession and the subsequent economic collapse have had a profound impact on the job prospects of many of today’s younger generation.

Whereas in the past, graduates might have expected to walk into a decent job with a promising career path, now many seem relieved simply to have a job at all even no matter how mundane it is. But the danger is that many graduates end up working in an industry they didn’t train for and their qualifications will go to waste.

According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published in March, there has been a rise in the percentage of recent graduates working in lower skilled jobs – from 26 per cent in 2001, to 35 per cent last year. This has coincided with a fall in employment levels among new graduates, those who graduated within the last two years, although employment rates are still higher among graduates than non-graduates.

But if the job market has changed so, too, have people’s expectations. A study published this week by professional services firm PwC found a “significant gap” between what graduates working in the financial service sector expected from the job, and their actual experience.

The survey of more than 200 graduates also found that more than half had made compromises when accepting a job during the economic downturn and few were planning to stay in their current post for long.

But Jon Terry, a partner at PwC, says bright graduates are still in demand. “Financial services companies are already finding it hard to keep younger workers and this is likely to become even tougher as the job market starts to improve.

“This generation of graduates demands a different approach to recruitment, retention, management and development, which organisations simply can’t afford to ignore.”

Martin Edmondson, chief executive at Graduates Yorkshire, a social enterprise organisation that focuses on connecting graduates and businesses, says the biggest differences regarding the graduate employment market are geographical.

“There are parallels with the wider economy and in London and the South East you see graduate schemes offering salaries of 35k.

“This is all very nice, but outside London and the South East it’s a very different picture with a lot more people working for SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Businesses] and the public sector,” he says.

“Around 10 per cent of graduate jobs come from big corporate schemes and in Yorkshire the two big graduate employers are Asda and Morrisons who both have excellent graduate schemes, but most people work for smaller businesses.”

Edmondson believes the expectations of graduates have changed with the times.

“They have a different mindset now because the days when people had jobs for life don’t exist any more. There are people who will stay in the same profession, like medicine or law, but even then you might find lawyers going on to become entrepreneurs. People don’t necessarily stay in the same profession and they certainly don’t stay with the same company.”

This is often seen in a negative light but Edmondson believes it can benefit both sides.

“Graduates and employers can make the most of the situation by adapting to each other better.

“Today’s graduates are more interested in working for companies that have strong values, they’re not just motivated by money. So clever employers can use their values to attract highly performing graduates.”

Some bright graduates have ended up languishing on the unemployment register for too long after leaving university because of a lack of opportunities, but equally problematic is the issue of under-performing graduates.

“Yorkshire is a very desirable place to live, people want to stay here and the universities have done a brilliant job in selling Yorkshire to people outside the region. But the downside is that many people who want to stay end up having to work in bars and coffee shops.

“This means coffee shops have a lot of talented people working for them but these graduates aren’t achieving their potential for themselves, or the economy. So the big challenge we face at the moment is making better use of all this talent we have here.”