University students fear graduate dead-end

The economic recession of the last few years has already had a severe impact in the work place for thousands of people across the country, with redundancies commonplace, unemployed numbers soaring, and companies as well as families struggling to make ends meat. One demographic that seems to be suffering more than some is young people – school leavers, university students and recent graduates.

A poll currently being conducted by TSR – called the National Student Career Survey - aims to gauge the levels of career advice, support, tools, and opportunities students aged 14 through to graduates need and want at every stage of their education. It shows that most people, if not all, are concerned with their future prospects as the number of jobs, especially those for graduates, dwindles – leaving many talented young people adrift and directionless.

Focussing on the responses given by our current university students and graduates (876 responses at the time of writing), the biggest stumbling block to entering the world of work appears to be a lack of experience. There’s a catch 22 situation, noted by many of our respondents, with one saying, “You can’t be hired unless you have experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired. This is a big challenge for students now, I feel.” This is an age old dilemma, but there are two other factors compounding the problem, according to our results. The first is the struggle to find part-time work to gain experience, and balancing this alongside studies whilst at university. A number of our respondents felt that there simply aren’t enough opportunities for people to work part-time, and those companies that are offering part-time positions do not offer enough flexibility for their positions to be viable for a lot of students. The second is the large numbers of people who have been made redundant, with the problem that “these more qualified people are applying for jobs that young people straight from school, college or university would have only applied for in the past.”

This isn’t a one way street though, according to the responses of some of our older graduates, with one stating that there is a lot of “competition from younger graduates who are cheaper to employ”, whilst another says that their biggest challenge “is to convince employers that a mature student is a valuable resource.”

Other common complaints among the university students and graduates when asked what the biggest challenge to their careers were, included:

  • Costs – the increased costs of both higher education and living weighs heavily on the minds of a number of our respondents
  • Motivation – staying motivated when applying for jobs that they actually want, in the face of rejections and few opportunities is a big challenge for some
  • Competition – both for getting into university in the first place, and finding suitable graduate jobs when they’ve finished studying is a concern
  • Standing out from the crowd – So many people have degrees now that applicants acknowledge that they need to do something more to stand out from the crowd
  • The first step – a number of our respondents pinpointed getting that elusive first job after university as the thing that, in the long run, will make all the difference
  • Relevance – many respondents felt that there were not enough job opportunities in a field relevant to their degree

The pressure is now on university students, not just to achieve a good degree classification, but to gain some work experience – especially beneficial when within a relevant field or company – and to gain industry contacts, all of which will help them when they graduate.

Read more about the results from our survey so far in our article TSR research shows young people are not equipped to find work.

Keep up with our university level students in our General University Discussion forum, or see what jobs they are talking about in our Careers and Employment forums.