Jane Bradley: Graduates need realism in job market

Quit your whinging, youth of today. It turns out the reason you can’t get a job is not the fault of the recession. It is not because us oldies are hogging all the decent positions and conspiring to keep you out.
Graduates need realistic expectations of the workplace, writes Jane Bradley Picture: Ian RutherfordGraduates need realistic expectations of the workplace, writes Jane Bradley Picture: Ian Rutherford
Graduates need realistic expectations of the workplace, writes Jane Bradley Picture: Ian Rutherford

It is not because your school has failed you in teaching basic numeracy and literacy skills.

It is because you are inherently unlikeable.

This isn’t my opinion. I know some perfectly lovely people who are younger than me. Really I do. This is the official conclusion of a survey into the employability of university graduates.

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The report, by the Workforce Solutions Group at St Louis Community College, claimed that more than 60 per cent of employers believe applicants for graduate-level posts lack “communication and interpersonal skills”.

This survey was, of course, carried out in the States. But the development of our ever-increasingly global world suggests to me that what goes in the US, soon goes here. And in many respects, it already has.

A separate report from recruitment firm the ManpowerGroup recently found that a fifth of employers worldwide claimed they were unable to fill positions due to a lack of young people with “soft skills”: namely, motivation, interpersonal skills, good appearance, punctuality and flexibility.

Perhaps most tellingly, the St Louis report found that there was a huge gulf between what these graduates believed their skills were and what prospective employers actually found them to be.

Many graduates seem to be modelling themselves on Hannah Horvath, Lena Denham’s character in hit US series Girls, whose unfaltering self-confidence is jaw dropping. For those who haven’t seen it, the programme follows Hannah’s life as a mid-twenties girl living in New York. While stuck in a series of jobs which she feels are beneath her, she demonstrates an amazing talent for self analysis as she waits for someone to discover her creative talent as an “essay writer” (essentially a blogger …who sometimes writes in a notebook for retro effect) – and somehow pay her for it. There are many real life Hannahs on both sides of the Atlantic. But with almost one in ten of last year’s graduates of UK universities unemployed six months after getting their degrees, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, those who are hiring can afford to be fussy.

One work experience girl arrived at The Scotsman offices insisting that she shouldn’t have to do the daily news slog – she only wanted to write editorial “comment” about the Middle East. No problem, I’ll just ask the editor, who has decades of experience in journalism – and life – to move over so you can impart your 21 years of infinite wisdom on all things political, shall I?

When I started out as a newspaper work experience girl, circa 1995, I was over the moon if I got anything – at all – printed.

My first article, for the Northern Echo in Darlington, was a 50-word news brief about a dieting group which was due to start in the local village hall.

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It even contained a fundamental typo – whether made by me, or added by the sub editors in some kind of initiation ritual, I’ll never know – changing the type of class from “slimming” to “swimming”. Oops. I still took it home, proudly, to show my mum.

My next story, about Christmas tree recycling, would not win any Pulitzers. But it gave me the beginnings of a cuttings book, which ultimately won me my first job.

Even now, when I’m tempted to throw a bit of a diva strop if I’m asked to do a certain assignment (“What do you mean you want me to go to Debenhams, buy a pair of padded pants, try them on and write a 300-word piece on whether they make my bum look like Pippa Middleton’s?! I’m a SERIOUS journalist, dontcha know?”), I try to recapture the excitement of that first brief about the swimming classes. It’s hard, sometimes, but I try.

Of course, not all recent graduates are Hannahs. There are many who are hard working, well presented and enthusiastic. They’re flexible, motivated and happy to throw themselves into whatever they are asked to do. You’ll easily recognise this rare breed – they’re the ones who get the jobs.