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Who is responsible for getting a graduate a graduate level job?

Martin Perfect asks whose responsibility is it to help graduates without graduate jobs
This article is more than 4 years old

Martin Perfect is Head of Student & Graduate Employability at Staffordshire University.

It’s easy to start with the graduate. They picked the course and the university, they know themselves better than everyone else and they are choosing to invest time and money in the university experience. But graduates don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why they came to university in the first place.

So the if the university has all the expertise, surely it must be their responsibility? Universities educate, challenge and stimulate the mind. Most universities now offer on campus jobs, and many have job shops or recruitment agencies. Universities have employers on campus, selling their scheme and industry to budding graduates. More and more universities are now offering and promoting placement years to ensure students have work experience under their belt as well as promising global opportunities for students wanting to study or work abroad.

There couldn’t be more initiatives to support students before and after they graduate.

Other answers are available

The other alternative answers are probably parents and employers. Parents – many are whom are students themselves, certainly encourage the younger generation to pick what they enjoy and ideally what they have excelled at at school and college. The question is how many sports scientists, historians, geologists, psychologists or museum studies graduates do we really need.

Parents think that universities are somehow matching supply and demand with the employers they work in close partnership with? No, and neither is FE as a sector. I was once told that for every ten places to do hairdressing at a college there is actually one job. There’s oversupply in many areas and huge skills gaps in others.

And then there’s employers. They appear to want everything – a first class degree, work experience, a placement year, volunteering, at least four different languages, and you must have grade eight in in at least fourteen musical instruments. But that’s not really true – they really want a self aware, educated, hungry to learn communicator.

Jobless grads

So with approximately four hundred thousand students graduating from universities every year, why are around one hundred thousand of them not in graduate level employment or equivalent six months after graduation. We are certainly not coding jobs correctly, which can slant these statistics, but when you factor in the individuals that go on to further study and then still can’t get a job, it’s probably true that we are failing at least a quarter of our graduates if not more.

Maybe they never wanted a graduate level job. Perhaps they still don’t have the belief they can secure one. Maybe universities haven’t communicated the umpteen initiatives that can help. We could be consciously (or more likely subconsciously) telling students to just concentrate on their academic studies. Parents might be encouraging students choosing the wrong degree subjects. And perhaps universities are offering too many non-vocational courses.

As ever the answers to the problem are complex. It would help if parents challenged students to think about the end goal and plan past university. Students should get more  involved in all the amazing initiatives on offer at university.

Universities have a role to play too. People assume that we constantly check, confirm and evidence that students understand, can explain, implement and use the skills we have been teaching. Yet we claim to have supported students to develop personally often without checking or confirming this. Some subjects, schools and universities are better than others for embedding this into courses – but why are we hiding it?

What do students need?

In my view, students need four things:

  • To understand the skills they have and need to further develop
  • To have opportunities to develop skills
  • To learn how to articulate the skills that they have gained and explain how they have gained them
  • To explore different career pathways and options

Should every university teach these skills explicitly, and confirm that students have them before awarding a degree? We don’t want this to be a tick box exercise or a formal exam, but something challenging and fair that evidences that all four hundred thousand graduates have been personally developed and given a fighting chance would help. Whether we call it employability, life skills or personal development doesn’t matter as long as it happens.

If this happened employers would be happy, parents would be happy, universities would be happy and of course most importantly graduates would be getting the value for money they deserve – strengthening the UK and global economies.

It sounds simple and if anyone can do it, surely it’s some of the brightest minds the world has to offer in our UK universities. I am passionate about making this dream a reality at Staffordshire University and I know of many colleagues across the UK are driving this agenda forward.

6 responses to “Who is responsible for getting a graduate a graduate level job?

  1. Great article Martin Perfect and an issue we have been working on at Cturtle for a while now for the international student community. Our research has now surveyed over 20,000+ international graduates and alumni through our International Student Employment Outcomes and Satisfaction (ISEOS) project and employability and return on investment are the top priority for international students. Cturtle has helped over 50,000+ international graduates and alumni apply for roles and built a community of over 400,000+ alumni members across ASEAN and Greater China.

  2. Great to read through the article Martin. Yes, I am with you on the fact that graduates don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why they came to university in the first place. It often goes back to the fundamentals of course design and management. I recall a very good discussion around ‘atractive titles for the programme’, modules often considered and driven by resources and finally ticking the essential boxes. We appear to have totally left behind the ‘purpose’ for the programme and how it caters to the needs of employers. We churn graduates from our system but in fact, have no objective or clarity on the purpose. At times, I feel we are caught up in the midst of frameworks and regulations that forced us to ignore the very purpose of what we teach and what we aim from such process in the dilemma of evidence based quantiative evaluation where numbers speak the language needed. Probably, a dichotomy of teachers and Academics.

  3. Sadly, @Siva Kumar , this will remain for some time as long as universities keep cutting the resources they should put into the Careers services. No universities have enough staff in this unit to cater for the teeming population of students that universities take fees from yearly. I had my own stories. Where most of our PhD colleagues received little or not support to transition from the pure academic doctoral programmes we did to a fruitful job (including non-teaching role).
    I’ve now attempted to support more persons to escape this anomaly –

    AND I USE THIS PLAN WITH PG CANDIDATES SAY ONE YEAR TO THEIR GRADUATION- (a work-in-progress, though!) WHICH I HAVE SEEN FROM THE RESULTS WE HAVE GOT IS BETTER THAN ANY GENERIC CAREERS ‘TALK ONLY’ WITHOUT A PROPER ‘HAND-HOLDING’ as students don’t know what they don’t know (apologies to Martin Perfect who’s a brilliant careers specialist With this article!)

  4. For universities who rely on international student revenue there seems to be little invested to know, support through employment, and leverage their international alumni. The number one reason international students choose to study abroad is to improve career outcomes yet most universities have no resources allocated to this.

    Cturtle partners with universities to;

    KNOW international alumni: At Cturtle we have identified over 1.3M international alumni in ASEAN, Greater China and India and track the employment outcomes of n=162,290 unique international alumni. Our data focuses on how student experience and graduate employment affects international alumni’s likelihood to recommend their university and country of education to future international students.

    ENGAGE international alumni: Cturtle+ is a partnership program to support your international alumni employment outcomes across Asia connecting them with over 1,000 employers across ASEAN and Greater China, complimenting and working with your careers, alumni and international student recruitment teams.

    LEVERAGE international alumni: in partnership with UniAdvisor we leverage alumni engagement for targeted marketing campaigns and student lead generation.

  5. I am really curious to know whether anybody has done any research looking at the reasons why so many students, either, chose not to find a graduate level job upon graduation, or IF they do want a graduate job, wait until they have given themselves more time to think about it? I mean, when I was younger, we were actively encouraged to travel after education and, to be honest, I will be encouraging my own son to do this when he gets older. However, as lecturer in university who is now having to ‘encourage’ our final year students to go find themselves a graduate job or, alternatively, sign up for a postgraduate programme of study, I do find it challenging to be teaching students about finding meaning and purpose in their lives, probably also knowing that just going for the first graduate job they can get into isn’t going to cut that cloth. Is the reason some students want to go directly into a graduate level job because they don’t feel confident in their ability to get the job. Or is it because, as much of the research shows, that many students of graduate age lack career and job readiness. As such, should we really be teaching them more about the ‘softer’ skills employers look for, or will this – and particularly for some lecturers – be just one step too far? I’m not one of those, by the way. But I would love to know if anyone has done any research on this please.

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