Kelly Barbour: Finding a job is getting harder and harder

FOR graduates, finding a job comes with ever greater degrees of difficulty, writes Kelly Barbour

paid, secure employment is still one of the biggest challenges facing young people today. Picture: PA

Over the past month or so, graduates across Scotland have been celebrating the end of their time at university.

Although this year’s figures haven’t yet been tallied, last year, more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of first time graduates in Scotland gained a first or upper second class degree according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

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Yet, paid, secure employment is still one of the biggest challenges facing young people today. NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, published earlier this month, suggests that many young people are still being excluded from the labour market as a result of the 2008 recession.

This begs the question, is the labour market ready to accept waves of new graduates – many of who will have high expectations?

The sustained expansion of higher education, and notably the continuation of free tuition in Scottish universities, has driven one of the biggest changes to the labour market in recent times. The number of people with a degree-level qualification across the country as a whole has risen sharply from 10 per cent in 1984 to 24 per cent this year as measured by NatCen’s BSA.

The professional and managerial segment of the market to which graduates tend to hone in anticipation of higher salaries and roles suited to their studies has become saturated. Findings from High Fliers Research, for example, showed that in 2015 the number of graduates hired by organisations featured in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, despite being up 3.3 per cent on 2014, was lower than projected – which isn’t a good sign.

The battle to secure graduate jobs, which according to new figures from HESA now pay an average annual salary of £22,000 in Scotland, has become fiercely competitive. For graduates, it is increasingly important to distinguish themselves from their peers by accruing as much work experience as they can in the build up to the launch of their careers.

Graduate and student placements, before, during and after tertiary education, have become a pivotal mechanism through which young people can accumulate the skills and work experience employers look for. Day to day, we work with organisations across Scotland that offer placements providing students and recent graduates with real-life work experience. The vast majority of these go on to secure full-time jobs.

Placements, which can last up to a year, are an opportunity to work on a specific innovative project in a business environment.

From an employer perspective, work experience readies students and graduates in a way that cannot be taught in a lecture theatre, and the majority now regard it as near essential. Last summer, a survey from the vocational training organisation City and Guilds found that 80 per cent of employers think work experience is essential, and that two in three employers would be more likely to hire a young person with work experience than one without.

The more that can be done to help facilitate the transition into work, the better for employers, candidates, and the economy.

• Kelly Barbour, programme manager – graduate engagement at ScotGrad