What’s wrong with being a stop-gap graduate?
2012-07-20 01:40 PMComment
If you believe the media, every graduate steps straight out of university and into the dole queue. They’re living at home, still getting spoon-fed by their parents, before leaving to go and mop floors in a school, still trying to choke down the bitter pill of graduate disillusionment…
Just a graduate, livin in a lonely world
Faced with newspaper headlines like “Boomerang generation: One in four graduates will move back to parents because they can't cope with hardship of living alone” (Daily Mail) and “Third of graduates in low-skilled jobs – and they’re the lucky ones” (The Independent), the world beyond the safe cocoon of university appears to be a place without prospects.
There’s no denying that this is a tough time for graduates, with youth unemployment high, and plenty of graduates out of work or simply getting by on low paid, low skilled jobs. But is it really that bad or is the media actually feeding us an unrealistic picture of the average graduate? Spin the headlines on their head and you get “Two-thirds in graduate level jobs” (yay!) and “Three in four graduates living a life of glorious independence” (hurrah!). The problem is that these sorts of headlines don’t shift newspapers. Profiles of graduates with good jobs and pay don’t quite tug at the heart-strings in the same way that a pitiful tale of a graduate sending out their 1,000th job application will.
The statistics oft quoted by the media are often based on the employment prospects of graduates six months after university, which frankly paints an unrealistic picture of graduate unemployment. A significant proportion of these “stop gap” graduates (unemployed or underemployed six months after university) will go on to find graduate level employment after six months or over a longer period. For many, it’ll usually be the time they’ll stop chasing that dream job and adopt a more sideways approach to achieving the career they want by slumming it in a ‘less desirable’ role or industry.
I was one of those statistics; six months out of university I was juggling a string of unpaid internships with a part-time job in a shop. I was underemployed, underpaid and hopelessly disillusioned. But it wasn’t going to last, and eventually, nine months after leaving university, I secured my first “real” job. Looking back, I needed my stop gap, my part-time work in a shop and my internships, to enable me to grow into the person who would be able to hack a full-time job.
In truth, I left university a hapless graduate completely unaware about the realities of the world of work. I shudder to think of the first cover letter I sent off, a misjudged email the equivalent of scrawling “pleaz employs me – I is gud” in crayons on a napkin. Of course I wasn’t going to get a job. I wouldn’t have employed myself fresh out of university.
Like many of my peers, I was also chasing a job in an incredibly competitive and floundering industry. It wasn’t realistic, and, embarrassingly, I was under the misguided notion that I should be “entitled” to my dream job because I had a degree. The reality is that your first job, much like your first teen romance, isn’t going to be “the one”, but what it can be is a stepping stone onto different things. So however unattractive that first job in recruitment or media sales might be, it could be a tiny step towards a career that you really will enjoy.
Anyway, what is wrong with being a stop-gap graduate? Are my friends in a better situation having got a job six months before I did? Not really. Maybe the year after university should be the time to muddle about and try bits and bobs. In true boomerang graduate fashion, I turned to my parents (yes, I still live with them) and asked them what they did when they left university in the late 70s.
My mum worked as a secretary for a company that made heavy machinery before finally landing a job in a fashion magazine. My dad did a “bit of this and that” before setting up his own business. Neither marched out of university and straight into a graduate level job. They were both prepared to pay their dues and slum it a bit beforehand.
So the message should be this: be realistic, be aware of where the job opportunities are, be prepared to work hard and compromise. Not: “you’ll never find a job you lazy, spoon-fed, vodka-addled ex-student.” That doesn’t help anyone.
Image courtesy of Juhan Sonin "Don't Stop Believin'"