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To What Degree?

By Danny Harrington

uk degree

The Guardian newspaper in the UK reports this week that graduate prospects in the UK are looking grim. The figures certainly make pretty scary reading. Statistics suggest that there are currently 70 applicants for every graduate entry job in the UK and that vacancies are expected to contract by nearly 7% this year. In 2009, it is reported that approximately 10% of all graduates failed to find work.

But general statistics like this fail to show the true picture. For a start there is the supply side. Some sectors are more vibrant than others and with the banking and finance industry picking up it is thought that up to 30% of vacancies in that sector have yet to be filled in 2010. On top of that, there is great variety in the nature of graduate level work, with some more attractive than others and all requiring different types of qualification. In an open society like the UK, there will simply never be a match between what courses students take and what courses employers need them to do. Besides which course choices are made 4 to 5 years ahead of an individual getting to the job market by which time it is a very different place. But clearly not every job gets 70 applicants. Then there is what employers look for. Most now focus on the degree level awarded – get a 2:1 minimum or else you’ll struggle even  to be interviewed – and the subject in which the degree was taken. Then, if they have the luxury they will look at which institution awarded it.

On the demand side, we must first ask who is in that 10%. Not all graduates are looking for work so at least some of them need not be worried about. But why do so many get degrees, look for work, but fail? Well not every degree is equal. There are a wealth of surveys which measure and compare courses and institutions. Many of those graduates failing to find work simply don’t have a very good degree. In many ways, their degree may have been a waste of time and money. It has become a modern mantra of the middle-classes (i.e. most people in Britain these days) that you must get a degree but some are frankly not worth the paper they’re written on and employers know it. And then of course, we must remember that having a degree is not some kind of passport to a job. You still have to choose which jobs to apply for, write a decent cover letter and CV, turn up to the interview dressed smartly and on time, and then impress the interviewer over and above the other applicants. It is a long, complex and arduous process and the degree only really gets you the interview. Nowhere near enough time is spent by graduates preparing for the actual job-getting part.

The solution? Choose your course carefully. Work hard at getting a good result. Apply for the right jobs and prepare for the interviews properly. There are plenty of career coaching services out there. Use them.

By Danny Harrington

Co-founder of ITS Tutorial School

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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