True or false: graduates are under-skilled, unwilling to work and feel entitled to a job.
The Guardian recently released an article with a comment from Rohan Daniels, recruiter for retailer T.K Maxx, who expressed disappointment with some of the soon-to-be graduates he met at a Leeds University careers fair. Mr Daniels had the following to say:
“There’s a bit of an underlying feeling of entitlement. A feeling that we as an employer should be clambering over other employers to secure their services as a graduate, rather than that they are lucky that we as an employer are interested in their development.”
This is no revelation. Graduates have had this criticism levelled at them for years. True, the Guardian have also previously published a piece concerning graduate and employer expectations of each other. However, so far it has been a one-sided argument and employers have actively criticised graduates for feeling that they deserve a job after university. Yet they neglect to mention their own role in the creation of this attitude - and in the majority of cases graduates are not given the chance to defend themselves.
At every stage of their education graduates have been given misleading advice. Society has directed them to university and presented it as their only shot at meaningful employment. If you’re detecting a ‘feeling of entitlement’ it’s because, as far as graduates are concerned, they’ve held up their end of the deal. It’s the employers who aren’t playing ball.
Just look at the way bright children are funnelled through the education system. As soon as a student shows promise in school the conversation immediately becomes about their progression to university. Their parents become fixated on this idea, which is only reinforced when the media tell them “this is where your children must go to succeed”. A vast proportion of students, when asked why they attended university, will reply that they believed they would get a job off the back of it. Graduates may be naive for believing this line, but what does that make employers for selling it to them?
There is a popular misconception of students that we are over- privileged and lazy. We just spend all of our time drinking and sleeping around, right? We wouldn’t know hard work if it came and did a cartwheel in front of us, right? We have it easy, right? This is so far from the truth that it’s almost funny – though I imagine it’ll be less amusing a year after I’ve graduated if I’m struggling for work.
Being an undergraduate is tough. It is a position that engenders huge pressures from all directions. I’ve lost count of the amount of my friends and coursemates who’ve had breakdowns because they’ve been unable to cope with the grind. And is there any wonder? Your grades have to be consistently excellent if you want to attain that elusive, golden ticket 1st. And that’s assuming you have time to study outside of the 30+ hours of knackering “part-time” work you’re doing because your loan only covers your rent and a weeks worth of food. On top of all this we’re expected to chase unpaid work for the “experience”.
By the way have you ever tried convincing someone to allow you to work for them for free? It’s surprisingly hard.
And regardless of the decisions you make, someone will tell you that you are wrong. Family, friends, teachers, career advisors, grandparents – everyone will tell you to do something different. Uncles instruct you to drop out and go to the same university that they went to. Employers say get an internship. That stranger that sometimes visits the cafe where you work tells you your degree is worthless. The worst thing is because many grads don’t have a clear direction in which to go career-wise, they listen to all this garbage.
Yet, we smile in the photo on the C.V. that will never be read. We are optimistic and enthusiastic whilst attempting to enter a system that we know is most likely working against us. Surely, the dedication we’re showing by jumping through all of these hoops is evidence enough that employers should be fighting each other to take us on? Perhaps employers should be more sympathetic to the graduates in the current system. We’re salmon swimming up stream – but unlike the salmon whether we get what we were swimming for is simply not up to us.
So, perhaps these employers should be grateful that graduates still want to work for them - and many of us will be their employees one day. And that isn’t to say that this attitude is universal. Companies like Innocent have graduates queuing for a job and why? I’d be willing to bet it’s because they have a responsible and positive attitude to everything they do. Graduates are flocking to those companies that present themselves as different and accessible. Perhaps employers should remember that the way they present themselves plays a part in deciding which graduates, and the attitude of those graduates, they attract.
It is time for the graduates to defend themselves. We have worked and worked hard. We have sacrificed in the pursuit of these opportunities. We have put our faith in the system and, for many of us, it simply hasn’t worked.
About the author - Felicity Ferguson
Felicity Ferguson is an Undergraduate Copywriting Intern at Shortlister.com, the video screening specialists. She is enjoying the “experience”.