Since the onset of the graduate jobs crisis, a lot has been made of the endemic shortage of jobs available to graduates, who leave university with enormous debt and in no better position to pay it off than if they’d never bothered to get a degree in the first place.
The fault, we all said, lay with the government and with big businesses. More jobs, more diversity and fewer unpaid internships were the solution, and businesses (big and small) had to change.
But it looks like big businesses are sick of baring the brunt of the blame for graduate unemployment, because they’ve come out to say that companies are now struggling to fill graduate positions as they can’t find enough quality applicants.
According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, nine out of ten graduate employers still have vacancies for this autumn, within areas such as IT and engineering, with businesses ‘sparring’ for grads to fill empty positions.
The AGR poll, which sampled 68 of its 750 members, found that 87 per cent of employers said they simply couldn’t find suitable graduate applicants to fill positions, with Adam Marshal of the British Chambers of Commerce claiming that often graduates are not ‘work ready’ and lacked the skills needed to thrive in the workplace.
It’s a sentiment that Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of AGR, seems to agree with. He blames graduates’ sloppy applications as the reason behind the poor employment figures. ‘First impressions really do count. I’d urge all graduates to really research the areas and roles that they’re applying for, tailoring each approach to show why they want that particular job and what they can offer.’
In other words, don’t just copy and paste CVs and cover letters, and machine-gun apply for every role out there – you have to cater your application to each position.
But surely today’s graduates know that? Stephanie Currie, 21, has just finished a fashion journalism course at Sunderland University and resents the idea that graduates are poorly equipped for the world of work, especially as she worked so hard throughout her degree to make sure that she was.
‘I know that I’ve got to show my employers that I’ve got transferable skills – all of my friends have known that since we started our degrees – so I’ve already done loads of internships to fill up my CV,’ she tells The Debrief. ‘It’s frustrating when I hear people suggest the reason I’m not finding work is because I’m not “work ready”, because what more do they want me to do? It’s a vicious cycle, you need experience to get an internship or job and an internship or job to get experience – lots of my friends feel totally lost and it just feels like the jobs aren’t out there.’
Does she think there’s any truth in the idea that graduates are sloppy with their applications? ‘No, I really don’t,’ Stephanie maintains. ‘I spend at least two hours tailoring each CV I send out – it’s so time-consuming considering I send out dozens of applications a week. It makes me cross, especially considering how much hard work I put in, to think that employers think graduates CVs are lacking. It’s scary.’
But if graduates leave university without the skills they need to make it into an entry-level position, who’s to blame? You go to university, and pay the huge fees, with the expectation that a degree will put you in a position to earn a better wage further down the line. If graduates are leaving uni not ready for work, surely the universities should take some of the blame?
Meg O’Donnell, 21, who recently finished a photography degree at the University of Plymouth, believes most unis have wised up to the need to prepare students for a hostile jobs market and are taking practical steps to help prepare them for work. ‘We actually did amodule called “professional futures” which was dedicated to getting us work experience, researching jobs and preparing our applications,’ she says. ‘It was making us aware of what we need to be eligible for certain jobs – whatever they might be – and the university was there to support us throughout.
‘I think the real problem is the huge number of graduates there now are for every job. Half of me feels like they’re using this as an excuse because there are now so many grads to choose from. I want to start applying straight away, but when you see this sort of report it makes you feel like the task is going to be insurmountable. It’s not helpful. If applications aren’t up to scratch they should be more transparent about what grads need to do.’
Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate careers advice blog Graduate Fog and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession agrees with Meg: ‘These shocking new figures expose a problem that need sorting – urgently. Somewhat predictably, employers are pointing the finger at graduates whom they say are submitting poor quality applications. It’s interesting that the head of the AGR seems to back his members’ claim without question. But that explanation is extremely one-sided and I think bosses should take some of the blame, too.
'Yes, there is always room for improvement in the quality of applications – and graduates do sometimes get careless, especially when they’re desperate. But graduates also report that big organisations’ recruitment processes are too long, unstructured and unclear, leaving applicants baffled by what they’re being tested on and why.
‘And friends who work at graduate recruitment agencies tell me that many employers don’t have a clear idea of exactly who they’re looking for before they start their hunt for new staff. They say they’re also seeing some employers offer low salaries, thinking they can get away with rock-bottom wages because there are so many desperate, jobless candidates out there. In reality, however, these are too low to attract the best candidates, who can still afford to be picky.
‘Whatever is going on, it’s in everybody’s interests to get to the bottom of it immediately. When so many graduates say they’d take any job they can find, there should be no unfilled vacancies at all.’
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.