Why it's a frightening time to be a university graduate - Amelia Wood

Furlough ended last week. When it was introduced in the first lockdown, many people thought that its ending would be terrible; millions unemployed and unable to find new jobs.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 4:45 am

Instead, the current worker shortages meant it barely graced the middle pages of most newspapers.

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Despite the recruitment drive, competition for graduate jobs remains as fierce as ever. Two-thirds of people who lost jobs due to the pandemic were under 25.

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Amelia Wood shares her thoughts on entering the graduate job market.

As a student myself, I know that many would-be pandemic graduates opted to stay in education, undertaking ‘panic Masters’ rather than trying to get a job during the first lockdown.

Likewise, many companies, still recovering from the pandemic have cut back on recruiting new, inexperienced staff. The result is a jobs market flush with qualified young people but no-one to hire them.

Even before the pandemic, the benefits of a university education were becoming less certain even as more people opted to attend.

Tony Blair’s famous target of having 50 per cent of young people attend university was passed in 2019.

Yet, degree in hand, those same students often struggle to find work that matches their qualifications: only two-thirds of working-age graduates are in high-skilled employment.

This is not helped by the fact that it is increasingly hard to distinguish between graduates.

Grade inflation has run amok in British universities. First-class degrees in England made up 30 per cent of all degrees awarded in 2019, up from 19 per cent just eight years earlier. Nearly 80 per cent of graduates now leave university having gained either a first or a 2:1.

Both figures come from the last pre-pandemic cohort; as universities have understandably instituted Covid-mitigation policies to compensate those students who might have been adversely affected by the pandemic, these numbers could rise even further.

With so little to use to choose between new graduates in terms of results, employers have had to look at other criteria like the institution they attended and any relevant work experience, which has been like gold dust during the pandemic as struggling companies have understandably cut recruitment programmes.

If all students graduate with the same degree results, then the name attached to that degree becomes all-important. Students at historically prestigious or southern universities will win out purely by their better name recognition among employers, who have likely not kept up with how lesser-known universities have improved in the years since they themselves went to university.

Internships, often unpaid and normally far from the North East, benefit wealthier students and those local to London, who can either afford to travel to and stay in the city for the duration of the internship, or else already live there.

University has long been made out to young people as the path to success.

But in a sea of other similar graduates, and far fewer good graduate jobs, it is increasingly unclear what’s supposed to happen next. It’s a worrying time to be a student about to first strike their path out into the working world.

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