I read in today’s Guardian that there are now 70 applicants for every job and that this year’s graduates have been “told to consider flipping burgers or shelf stacking to build skills”. I find it shocking that the headline on this article has been worded to insinuate that there are 70 graduate applicants for every job, when actually they mean every graduate job. You know, the ones with the high starting salaries and extensive training schemes. By the looks of the advice offered by the chief executive of The Association of Graduate Recruiters, it seems to be the case that only ‘graduate’ jobs are being promoted to students – why else would they feel the need to tell them there is other work out there? I am disappointed that some students have to be told to consider jobs they may think are beneath them in order to get money, as I have never been out of a job for more than a month.
After university, complete with my (apparently now worthless 2:2), I went back to live with my parents and returned to my holiday job at WH Smith in order to get paid while considering my options, and I had a fantastic time doing it. I learnt every task in the store and met some really amazing people. My plan wasn’t to gain skills for my CV, but I inadvertantly did. Every retail and temp job I’ve ever done has given me some skills or knowledge to add to what I gained from my more permanent roles.
Perhaps most graduates, unlike me, have a very clear idea of what they want to do and think that any work taken on outside this path will delay or prevent them from reaching their goal. I hope that’s why they’re taking all these unpaid internships that promise skills and insight, but sometimes only exist as a source of free labour for the companies who create them. If everyone’s now working for free, why should anyone bother paying them in the future? Surely, with a steady stream of desperate graduates looking for a way in to the industry, there will be no need to offer entry-level paid work at all in some areas? How can this be better than the age old approach of packing boxes or answering phones while you plan your next career move?
I don’t think I’d go to university if I was in school now. Forcing a target of 50% of young people entering higher education has swamped the market at a time when students are paying more and more for courses which are, in some cases, doing little to further their career prospects. My sister didn’t go to university and now, despite many employers’ desire to employ graduates for everything, has a better paid job than I do because she’s more driven and doesn’t wait for things to come to her. With some key exceptions which involve a lot of detailed knowledge and training, you can do anything you want to if you just put your mind to it. Working in retail for a year so that you can pay your way after university is not going to hold you back and really shouldn’t be headline news.