Young people graduate into a different world from that of twenty or thirty years ago when their parents went to university. The student population has doubled since 1992 and last year UCAS reported that a record number, almost half, were accepted into university. The problem is what happens when they leave. With 78% of students now achieving a 1st or 2:1, competition for graduate level employment is rife. Which is why, according to official data by the Office of National Statistics, almost half (47%) of graduates were in non-graduate jobs two years later. Clearly, a university degree is no longer enough.
It isn’t the outcome most graduates and their parents expect post university, and they are bewildered when it happens to them. Take Alice Shaw, whose mum came to see me recently. Alice wanted a job in publishing but failed to get an internship whilst at university. She then did a masters in English as her university said that would make the difference, but she still couldn’t get an interview for an internship in publishing despite graduating with a merit. She is also now £75k in debt.
If you are a parent with a child at university, or who is about to go to university, what can you do to help your child avoid this problem? My advice is to encourage them to focus on getting relevant work experience while they are still at university or within six months after leaving, which they can get from a number of sources [see diagram].
Work experience is vital for two reasons.
• It teaches graduates vital employability skills.
• It helps graduates understand what they WANT to do as a career.
Around 85% of all graduate employers will automatically reject candidates with no work experience, and 93% of employers believe work experience is more important than a degree. The skills your child acquires from work experience can be divided into two types:
• Technical skills and,
• Soft skills.
Technical skills are the on-the-job skills you acquire by working, for example, as a designer, accountant or marketer. Soft skills, or employability skills, can be acquired in any job or industry, but the more relevant they are to the job and industry you are applying to, the better off you are. Soft skills are often considered more important in a new hire than technical skills because they equip you to settle and advance in a role quicker. When two people have the same technical skills, say marketing or design, then soft skills become the deciding factor. So, had Alice focused on developing her soft skills first, she would have been a stronger competitor for that prized internship in publishing.
Chris Davies is founder of Graduate Coach, a company that offers interview coaching and advice to graduates and their parents. He is the author of The Student Book, which shows students how to prepare to find a graduate level job after leaving university; and The Graduate Book, which shows them how to excel once they get there.
The CBI has summarised the key soft skills as the following: business awareness, communication, entrepreneurship, IT, numeracy, problem solving, resilience, self-management, and teamwork.
The second reason why work experience is important is because it helps your son or daughter know what they want to do and what type of job suits them. The more experience a student/graduate has, the better they understand themselves, their preferences, values and ideal career. The employer can have every confidence that the graduate will put 100% into the role, the match is good and they are likely to commit to the job and stay for a number of years.
How can you help?
• Encourage your son or daughter to find work experience relevant to the career they want…
• …however, do not rule out any type of work experience that will help them build up to the job they eventually want to get.
• Consider your network, who could help them in these areas?
• Encourage your son or daughter to build their own network (perhaps former teachers, lecturers, old acquaintances).
• Encourage them to be proactive, by contacting companies with a carefully prepared cover letter which highlights the skills they will bring to the company.
• Encourage them to start early. Graduates who make applications while still studying stand a better chance.