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Why Recent Graduates Should Consider Work Experience

There has been a shift in the job market. The last couple of years have seen the types of positions available and the qualifications required for recruitment alter as the country has responded to the recession and the subsequent economic uncertainty.
The green shoots of recovery have begun to emerge, and employment is gradually on the rise. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the quarter leading up to August of this year unemployment fell from 7.8 per cent to 7.7 per cent. While this trend looks set to continue in the immediate future, there is still a degree of caution among employers, which is affecting the jobs on offer.

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A significant change is in the amount of people who are now working part time. The ONS has recorded the number of people working part time in this country at 7.9 million, an increase of 456,000 over the last two years. In the same period of time, the number of people in full-time employment has fallen by 727,000.

The fact that there has been a surge in part-time employment has to be taken into account when dissecting employment figures as a whole. Individuals with part-time jobs will include students, new mothers returning from maternity leave and people who have been forced out of full-time work. The same ONS study showed that 1.1 million people working part-time were only doing so because they could not find full time work.

This does not mean, however, that businesses are not looking for employment full stop. It is the selection processes and criteria for employment that has changed, and as a result job seekers have to adapt to fit the qualifications required.

While this change may have had an effect on the entire job market, it is most significant for graduate jobs. Academic ability cannot guarantee employment and it is now those graduates coming straight out of higher education that can no longer solely rely on their qualification, irrespective of the mark they have received.

As the range of subjects available to study at university is now so wide, students are almost spoilt for choice. As a result, the subject of a person’s degree is far less important than it used to be. Graduates can choose an industry and use a salary counter to determine whether a position is of interest, rather than go on what degree they have read.

While this may be the case, more than ever a greater weighting is placed on work experience by employers. It is not uncommon for students to fit in work experience during their time of study. This may be part-time work or a year-long work placement before the final year of study. Such experience is what prospective employers are looking for in graduates now.

A lack of extra-curricular skills or work experience can lead to graduates finding it increasingly difficult to gain employment after leaving university. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 20,000 graduates last year were still unemployed six months after completing their study. That figure represents ten per cent of all graduates, and is an increase from eight per cent in 2008.

Graduates have become far more nomadic in their career paths. This lack of commitment to long-term positions without first sampling a job has also helped increase the figures in part-time employment as mentioned above. For those graduates who want to gain employment as quickly as possible, regardless of how it relates to their degree, it may be useful to look online at a job site or go to local recruitment agencies to find work in a variety of industries.

The number of graduates working in call centres for example, has seen a significant increase. Hays Contact Centres released figures detailing that 35 per cent of their workers were graduates, up ten per cent from last year. Starting salaries in call centres can vary from £12,000 per year to £18,000, and while some graduates may receive more senior roles in sales and marketing, a large number maintain that the work is a short-term solution to their unemployment.

As well as the preference for work experience over academic qualifications, there is a higher expectation on personal training and responsibility. The time and effort expended adding to one’s skill set by their own accord is an attractive feature to employers.

Learning how to navigate specific and relevant software programs that are used frequently in a person’s chosen industry shows drive and independence. If companies can save on time, money and resources by not doing their own in-house training, because someone applying for a position with them has done it themselves, it will be of great benefit to them. Employers are looking for people that they can fit into their company as seamlessly as possible, hence the emphasis on work experience.

To add to this, the graduate labour market is always increasing with the number of mature students and workers looking for a change in their career. While those who change mid-way during their careers may have different academic qualifications, their experience in the work place may stand them in good stead vis-à-vis recent graduates.

What has become more apparent is the requirement of having a varied skills set when applying for jobs. The restrictions applied to companies’ budgets over the last couple of years have led to greater tentativeness when employing new staff. As a result, the number of full time positions on offer has dramatically decreased, and those that are on offer are highly sought after.

Companies can try to minimise the amount spent on salaries by offering work on a part time or freelance basis. The media industry would be a good example of this, as newspapers, magazines and other publications have stripped their annual staff to the minimum, and offered out work to freelance staff as and when it comes.

While the number of people competing for each job may have increased (70 applicants for each position according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters), there is still a demand for the right candidate. Qualified graduates are still in demand, but they must now alter their skill set in accordance to the industries in which they choose to work.