Too educated for the job?

Published

Kathryn Gilmore

Scrolls (Photo Credit: Son of Groucho)Ah, the great graduate job hunt. The sheer thrill/utter terror of not knowing what to do with the rest of your life, which blankly stares back at you upon graduation as if to say  “…so what now?”

It comes to us all (make the most of your blissful University years, o youthful freshers). Currently immersed in this joyous activity myself, I have noticed an increasingly widespread and altogether worrying trend: “ineligibility for applicants with a degree.”

I am an arts graduate. I hold a degree in subjects I pursued solely out of interest and enjoyment of studying in a supportive environment with fellow enthusiasts. I am yet to decide quite how I would like to earn a living for the next fifty years of my life, but it very probably will not be in a career related to my degree subjects – such is the nature of arts. Thus, I find the phrase “applicants with a degree are not eligible to apply for this position/training scheme” to be somewhat baffling.

My degree gave me many transferrable skills, but did not train me in the job-specific knowledge often required for said positions/training schemes that I am keen to apply for; I have no idea how to programme a radio station or correctly preserve ancient artefacts or manage historic parklands. And yet I’m completely ineligible to apply because I have a degree. How does that work?

A degree should absolutely not entitle anyone to a job – of course it shouldn’t. I, personally, did not pursue my University education for this reason. So why does not having a degree entitle anyone to a job? To be discriminated against on the basis of education, abundant or lacking, is entirely wrong.

My forays into the great graduate job hunt have revealed that this discriminatory practice is widespread across the arts areas I would like to eventually go into. In an ironic attempt to increase accessibility, this exclusory phrase (often asterisked down at the very bottom of the application form just below the description and your own excited enthusiasm to apply) is often a legal obligation for organisations.

To me this seems bizarre, backward and not a solution to any kind of problem; simply moving an obstacle does not get rid of it.

Indeed, let’s invert the notion for a second. Were organisations to only offer access to those with the highest levels of education there would be absolute uproar, and rightly so. Or, alternatively, exchange the adjective “graduate” in the sentence “graduates are not eligible to apply” for any other, literally any other: female, Jewish, white, short, English (I could go on, but you get the jist). It doesn’t seem quite so acceptable anymore.

I fully appreciate this is a tough job market –  organisations simply have to find a way to narrow down applications they are swamped with and, in conjunction with the increasing pressure to (ironically) widen access, this application form clause seems like a win-win situation for employers.

But ultimately, discrimination in any form is wrong. Because that’s what this is – discrimination. The only difference is it’s acceptable. It is acceptable, encouraged even, to discriminate against graduates because the misconception is that we have all the opportunity in the world; that doors will open for us regardless. We don’t need this particular scheme as we’ll be handed something else involving a six figure starting salary and a suit in a few months.

I don’t know about you, but my degree is yet to open an automatic door, let alone the locked door of the current job market. In fact, because of this “graduates need not apply” practice, thus far my degree has actually hindered any kind of long-term job hunting process. I might not have expected my degree to particularly assist in my quest for work post-graduation, but I absolutely did not anticipate it would block off potential routes entirely.

Of course, this is not the case with all potential graduate employers. In many cases, specific degrees are required and graduates with skills acquired throughout the course of their studies are essential. However, the fact there are examples of this discriminatory practice at play at all, in any sector, I find to be totally and utterly appalling because closing opportunities to graduates is effectively punishment for pursuing education.

Society seems to be sending out a fairly unmissable message that enjoying any given arts subject to the extent that I did and wanting and being able to continue my learning to degree level was the wrong thing to do. You will feel guilt and you will never be allowed to have a job you’d quite like to have, ever.

Is this really the case? Is this the message organisations should be sending? Yes, graduates can apply to multiple companies who all run fabulous graduate schemes: accountancy, law, finance, business, management, PR, marketing, events. But what if you would like to do something else? Is university just a way of channelling us allinto a relatively narrow graduate scheme genre? I don’t know about you, but this is not what I signed up for.

Success, in all its wonderful and wacky forms, should be recognised. Making one form of success completely invalid, into a shame almost, is wrong. Plain and simple. To make anyone feel ashamed of who they are, what they have achieved and the choices they have made is horrific. I don’t know how we’ve got to a point where it is acceptable to stomach discrimination just because of whois being shut out.

For now, my own graduate job hunt continues despite the frequent obstacles in my way. Thus far, radio production apprenticeship programmes continue to elude me. Of course they do – I have a degree in history.