The 8 stories presented here, collected from a group of friends who all have ties to Manchester, illustrate the challenges they faced post graduation – particularly in finding work – alongside some of their biggest achievements. What is clear amongst all the stories is that a degree is only a small part of what makes you employable.
In 2013 there were 12 million graduates in the UK alone (ONS, 2013), and this year only 5% of them had a job lined up after they graduated (Burek, 2013). The media has been painting a consistently bleak picture of the future of graduates in employment, claiming that the hardest job for a graduate is finding a job.
Over half of all new graduates are either unemployed or in menial jobs six months after leaving university (Guardian Jobs, 2014). But, importantly, many of these figures are often taken from a ‘snapshot’ 6-month period immediately post-graduation. Over a much longer period of time, around 2-3 years, graduate unemployment stands at a much smaller 3.1% (Hagues, 2013).
A degree is valuable not just because it makes you employable, but because of the experiences it affords a young person. As a student you are given the time to figure out what you think about the world, to understand what you enjoy, what you are good at (and maybe not so good at) – and this takes place in a largely supportive environment where you are encouraged to grow and develop.
As Naomy highlights in her story, after living most of her life always having ‘the next step of education’ – from pre-school, to school, to university – suddenly having no clear plan for the future can be scary and alien. The job-hunt can be a seriously disheartening struggle and its difficulties should be acknowledged with a view to improving support networks.
Most of the graduates who share their stories here still do not know what their long-term plan will be, and many have gone through difficult periods of unemployment. I have unpacked some of the common threads between our narratives, and the individual stories in which we share our expectations, struggles and hopes for the future can be heard below.
- Naomy has a BA in English Literature and Theatre from the University of Sheffield (2013). She is currently doing paid and voluntary work whilst preparing to start the Teach First Graduate Program in 2015.
- Louis has a BA in English from the University of Manchester (2011) and is currently undertaking an MBA (Master in Business Administration) at the same university.
- Jasmine has a BSc in Psychology from the University of Manchester (2012) and is currently working as a Trainee Optical Consultant in Manchester.
- Aurore has a BA in History and English from the Université de Rennes, France (2009). She completed a Master’s degree and undertook further competitive exams in order to become an English teacher in France.
- James has a BA in Fine Art from Manchester Metropolitan University (2012) and is currently working as an English teacher in France.
- Beth has a BA in Geography from the University of Manchester (2012) and is currently Programme Manager of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation in Salford.
- Melissa has a BA in Social Sciences & Psychology from the University of Manchester (2012). She completed a Master’s and is soon to start as a Visitor Services Team Assistant with the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
- Laura has a BA in History from Queen Mary University (2012). She completed a Master’s and has just started her PhD in History at King’s College London.
What Have We Learnt?
About the Job Search
Online job searches emerged as the most difficult and tedious method of looking for work for many of these graduates. It is perhaps the most accessible way of searching and applying for jobs, but chances of gaining employment are slim because of the sheer amount of applicants for each position.
Another problem was raised concerning jobs falsely and unethically advertised as ‘graduate positions’. Naomy spent time working for a company who claimed applicants needed a 2:1 for a role that essentially consisted of making tea for the office, downloading e-mails and filing paperwork.
Forcing yourself to ‘trawl’ through jobs on a daily basis, writing numerous applications whilst being unlikely to not hear anything back is both tedious and dispiriting, and was even considered a method to avoid by Louis. He gained an apprenticeship by writing (twice) to an architect in America whose work he admired.
Other ways of approaching employability have been methods that are perhaps more proactive in that they actively approach individuals/organisations, or advertise personal skills directly. For example, when James moved to France, he placed adverts around the city to advertise his own skills in the English language.
Almost all of the graduates interviewed here have undertaken some form of voluntary work either throughout their time at university or after graduating. In Melissa’s case, it helped her get both her jobs since graduating and is something that enabled Laura to live abroad for a short period of time.
About the Job Centre
Four of the graduates interviewed had spent more than a few months on Jobseeker’s Allowance almost directly after graduating (in Bradford, Northampton, Manchester and Bolton), and all experienced serious difficulty with the services provided, in cases feeling exploited when in an already vulnerable position.
Two graduates were instructed to remove both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from CVs in order to further chances of gaining employment – enabling them to apply for jobs for which normally they would be overqualified. Melissa was almost prevented from undertaking voluntary work (which later proved beneficial to future employment) and was almost forced to take up a workfare placement.
Being forced to undertake unpaid work in any sector or role with the threat of benefit sanctions (the removal of welfare) if refused is known as workfare. In Melissa’s situation it involved attending a formal interview to work on an office reception alongside another JSA claimant, 9—5pm daily for 4 weeks, unpaid.
About Support Networks
Many of these graduates have expressed the importance of support networks post-graduation, particularly for financial and emotional support.
For example, Aurore felt supported during the incredibly stressful time of her MA by her friends, her boyfriend and her family. Jasmine, Laura, Melissa and Naomy all moved back home for significant periods of time after graduating, and Louis has described the unpleasant experience of needing to borrow money from his parents.
Both types of situation present something of a double-edged sword in that all of us were lucky to have a home to return to, or were fortunate to be able to borrow money – but at the same time these situations can present a sudden loss of independence, and a ‘reverting to being a teenager’ again, as Laura describes.
Beth describes how rare it is for somebody to give a young person a chance, that when they do, young people are vulnerable of being siloed into one type of professional development, being pushed into a mode of thinking that is limited to ‘This is the way we do things, learn how it’s done from us.’
Beth is presenting one solution via her companies @PlatformMCR and PlatformUK. These community-interest companies aim to foster peer-to-peer development support amongst young people, helping them feel supported whilst developing skills necessary to get or create the job they want. This is valuable in arming young people with a sense of empowerment after they lose the comfort blanket of university.
Burek, O. (2013) ‘Life after university: survey results’, savethegraduate.org.
Guardian Jobs (9 Jun 2014) How Graduates can stand out from the crowd.
Hagues, Tom (03 Oct 2013) ‘Articles Reporting on Graduate Employment Figures are Scaremongering’, The Huffington Post.
ONS (19 Nov 2013) Full Report - Graduates in the UK Labour Market.