As I write this, exhausted, fingers on the keys of an equally tired laptop, closing the twenty-something open windows before me, I find myself a little deflated. Sitting here, sifting through a self-inflicted Google search muddle of: “Graduate job Scotland”, “Graduate schemes UK”, “Graduate work, anywhere, please?”, “Soon to be extremely poor graduate, HELP!”, the reality that I might never find the elusive placement I’m after is quickly setting in.
Melodramatic Googling aside, the graduate job crisis is real, and it could be hitting us harder in 2017 than ever before. These endeavours – trawling through vague internet searches, following seemingly empty threads towards one highly competitive, elusive position at a company hundreds of miles away, filling in never ending applications, feeling proud of yourself for convincingly transforming one week’s work experience in 2011 into a life affirming, career defining moment, and all the while edging one step closer to a series of could-be interviews in the Big Smoke – are not without their tribulations. Granted, this pattern may not apply to those clued-up enough to have gone vocational from day one. But, for the rest of us, the uncertain majority, it is increasingly clear that a university education alone is not the life-affirming trip on the gateway drug to professional work that it once was.
Where it is fair (and more than just a case of my own wishful thinking) to say that degrees are still highly regarded in the working world, they are no longer a golden ticket. In fact, last year the Chartered Institute of Personal Development released statistics stating that around 58% of graduates are in jobs deemed to be “non-graduate” positions. Another survey, conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Cambridge University, revealed that graduates from the wealthiest 20% of families were still earning 30% more than the remaining 80% ten years after leaving higher education. Clearly then, despite my own fruitless searching on LinkedIn, Milk-round, s1jobs and the like, there are positions out there. But with around 60% of graduates entering into jobs without a degree requirement, and the privileged minority remaining the UK’s top earners, are we, the graduating class of 2017, experiencing a turn in graduate opportunity?
Something I have found particularly striking about this matter from my own experience of this application process is simply how costly it is. Having spent the past four years building a solid CV, working in and out of university to refine my own professional capabilities, I could be forgiven for feeling confident in my ability to find relevant work in Scotland post-graduation. However, as filling in forms leads to booking trains/planes, arranging serial interviews, checking into Premier Inns, navigating transport routes, and ultimately finding myself considering a financially improbable move to London to get work, it seems that opportunity is undoubtedly twinned with financial prosperity. Considering my card was recently declined in the library café, this is something that is increasingly weighing on my mind (purse strings).
While the wealthiest of graduates continue to snag the high earning positions after University, the rest of us face new competition, as graduate vacancies are once again streamlined by the rise of apprenticeships. Last year, apprenticeship rates increased by 13% among previous graduate employers, a figure set to rocket when the Apprenticeship Levy comes into play in April this year. This governmental scheme will fund over 3 million places for apprentices in England and 30,000 Modern Apprenticeships per year by 2020 in Scotland. This levy means training, increased opportunity, guaranteed employment and is tied to ex-Chancellor George Osborne’s promise that employers will “get out more than they put in.” In short, it sounds fantastic.
But, where does it leave us, the soon to be un-qualified, over-qualified degree holders of 2017 that have slipped through the employment net? Is it back to full-time education for the rest of our lives? Working “for now”, saving until your dream becomes financially viable? Going for it? Applying anyway? Taking out another loan (or five)? Truth is, it’s probably all of these things. It’s probably sticking it out, demanding to be listened to, building up a CV that you are proud of and staying true to your own aspirations. It’s probably all the things we were told at the Careers Fairs, in interviews, by our parents and preached ourselves on Pinterest. University might no longer be the only slipway into professional work, but it is a weighted way in, and that degree (which, by the way, you will get) is something you have earned and something that will open doors for you, even if you can’t see them just yet and even if, in 2017, there is a bit more of a queue.