Great Expectations

While they live with a constant fear of graduating from UCD only to have even McDonald’s shut the door on their degree, Natalie Voorheis investigates whether the Celtic Tiger’s kittens are victims or just lazy

We have all heard the horror stories involving college graduates unable to find employment in their chosen field

What will my job prospects be after graduation? Where is my degree taking me? How do I begin preparing for interviews? How do I map a career plan? These are the kind of questions that cross every student’s mind at some point or another. However, during a period of economic uncertainty, it is imperative that students stop procrastinating on Facebook and prepare for the future in order to secure employment upon graduation.

On the right hand side of the campus bookshop is an insignificant looking section of the building one might easily rush past and completely miss in the general bustle of daily student life. This building is home to the UCD’s Career Development Centre.

The centre is little known among the general student body and is something of a hidden facet of on-campus life. The Careers Development Centre aims to give students an edge in the job-seeking world, to equip them with the skills and knowledge that will see them employed.

In an economic climate of uncertainty, where unemployment rates nationwide are extremely high, our generation of graduates must have something more than a BA in this or a master’s degree in that. We must have clear goals and aspirations, instead of expecting to walk into work straight after college. We must be ambitious, organized and motivated and be job ready with skills of self-promotion and a shrewd knowledge of employment application and interview techniques – a tall order to say the least.

The University Observer spoke to Director of the UCD Career Development Centre, Dr David Foster, who outlined the three areas that the centre focuses on in their work in helping graduates make the transition into employment.

The first of these areas is to focus a student’s engagement while they’re still in college in order to make sure that they are attractive to potential employers. Dr Foster described employers in a competitive job market as “looking to recruit students who have made a difference,” i.e. been involved in societies, sports, volunteering and part-time work right from the start of first year.

The second is facilitating the enhanced employability of graduates. Dr Foster told The University Observer that “employers recruit students with the right blend of education, skills and experience. Our programmes of careers education, skills workshops and advice sessions help students recognise skills already developed, plug any skill-gaps they may have and understand how their skills are applied in their target workplace.”

Lastly, the centre aids the effective transition from student to employee through training and guidance on making effective applications, developing effective interview techniques and advice on assessment centre tasks and activities.

Dr Foster identifies one area in particular as being a weakness in graduate job searching techniques. “I think many students are not aware of the ‘hidden job market’ and the importance of making strong speculative approaches [to employers].”

Dr Foster went on to explain how the UCD Career Development Centre can help students specifically target this: “We can help students identify potential employers and advise on producing a strong CV whenever a specific job has not been advertised.”

We have all heard the horror stories involving college graduates unable to find employment in their chosen field and equally unable to gain even a non-contract job with McDonalds or Burger King, but how real is this concern? Dr Foster addressed this saying, “Some students seem to feel that there is no point in applying for jobs given the climate. But, students and graduates are getting graduate jobs and persistence pays dividends.”

Dr Foster supported his argument with reference to the First Destinations Research survey (FDR), which is carried out on UCD graduates every year, nine months after they complete undergraduate study.

The FDR for graduates of 2009 – which is based upon the known destinations for 75.6% of all UCD graduates – showed 56% to be in employment, 30% to be in further study and 5% to be not available for work e.g. travelling. Interestingly this leaves only 9% unemployed or seeking work. Furthermore, according to the FDR surveys, unemployment rates are down 2.6% in 2009 compared to 2008 where they were at 11.6%.

Despite Dr. Foster’s positivity, the same cannot be said for the entire student body. The University Observer spoke to Seán Ó Bhróin, who, having just completed a BA in Philosophy and Film Studies, has decided to continue on to masters level.

“I stayed in college because I don’t really have any other option,” says Ó Bhróin. “There are very few jobs going in my sector, so my only option is to keep educating myself until either the recession ends or I become even remotely employable.”

Similarly, Rosa Dempsey, currently in her 3rd year of a Psychology degree, spoke about her thoughts for the future. “I find the prospect of leaving college and looking for employment in a recession very daunting.”

“I think for me emigration will be a definite consideration, probably to Canada. Although this wouldn’t have been my first choice in a better economic climate, emigration isn’t totally a negative thing in my view. The prospects of a fresh start and the life skills to be gained from living so far away are very appealing to me.”

Many disillusioned students have grumbled about UCD’s commitment to their best interests regarding preparing them for the job world. One naturally turns to the body providing career support in UCD, the Career Development Centre, to assess the validity of this.

The centre is however, a powerful tool for students to utilise. It provides countless different services, free of charge, for both undergraduates and graduates. The staff are friendly and informative, and their website is functional, up to date and easy to use. Furthermore, the centre has begun this academic year with a staff increase and is working to improve the layout of its premises.

So why do student opinions, as regards the services provided by UCD in this regard and the services actually available, differ so drastically? It is clear that UCD’s downfall here is not in the quality of the service provided, which must be admitted to be of a very good standard, but in the advertisement of the availability of this service. UCD seem to have fallen short in their outreach attempts to the general student body, in simply letting them know that the centre exists.

The Career Development Centre are proud of the level of service which they provide to the student body and have received regular positive feedback. One UCD Law graduate recently wrote on a feedback form: “The first interesting and helpful advice I got was to make contact with potential employers and I subsequently arranged a number of meetings at target companies.”

While services remain available, it is clear that an undergraduate degree is no longer an automatic pass to a job or a career. Most employers look for ever-increasing levels of education, extra-curricular skills and interview and application perfection from their prospective employees. Many students are therefore choosing to stay in education as long as possible rather than brave the job market. However, post-graduate study can be grueling work and a weighty financial strain on students.

A generation of Celtic tiger cubs, now at university level having had their first degree largely subsidised by the state, are faltering at the first signs of difficulty in gaining employment.

Having such top quality education handed to us has created a portion of graduates with no fire in their belly. Modern students never had to exercise complete determination – they are unable to muster it in the race to seek out employment in the hard economic times. Instead, they simply stretch out a hand to the state and sign on to the dole, declaring themselves unemployable before a fight for employment had ever really begun.

There is no doubt that the Irish media has taken hold of the recent economic downturn and turned the recession into a caricature of itself. The sensationalist writing regarding the economy and the brimstone and hellfire attitude adopted by numerous columnists regarding it have taken a toll on the student population, causing an air of disillusionment that isn’t entirely routed in fact.

The mantra that there aren’t any jobs out there because of the recession has become somewhat of a safety net for students who too often use it as an excuse that validates a search of short duration and little conviction for employment. Those students willing to cater to a demanding and competitive job market in order to succeed, are gaining employment, as testified by last year’s FDR survey.

It’s easy to sit over a cup of tea whilst bemoaning the state of the nation. But it pays to get up, get out and just go. A country will always need doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers etc. We’ve mourned the Celtic Tiger era, but employment is out there. So you have to fight for your job? Big deal!  May the best graduate win!