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The Crisis Facing Graduates, how we can help
As the financial tsunami passes from one coast to another, anxiety continues to grow in every economic sector around the globe. The storm is cold, bitter and ruthless, and leaves us all restless. In recent months we have all seen how governments, banks and corporations scramble to cope with plunging share prices, international financial turmoil and a serious downturn in every national economy. Among the more defenceless victims, sadly, are new college and university graduates.
Young people who completed their final examinations in anticipation of marching into the world of work are slowly learning the bitter facts of the downturn, and trying to accept that the years ahead of them may be more challenging than they had thought. Many are waiting with folded hands for a single interview invitation or an initial job offer.
The situation is equally distressing for parents who have tirelessly invested their time and money in their children’s education, waiting for the day that they take responsibility for reducing some of their parents’ burdens. It may be even more difficult for some graduates who have dependants relying on them to generate income for the family.
New graduates have to cope with three issues: first, the economic slowdown means there are fewer jobs available; second, widespread redundancies mean there are more experienced people than there might have been in previous years trying to secure the same jobs; third, there are many graduates from previous years who are still jobless. In due course the problem will escalate, and there will be an oversupply of graduates and a shortage of high-end jobs, which will cause chronic difficulties: and the layoffs and business closures of recent months have made the situation worse.
My heart goes out to these young people. It is painful when you discover that you either have to downsize your dreams and accept whatever job is offered to you to earn money and gain experience, or extend your postgraduate “holiday” in the hope that the next job offer is better and meets your expectations. But with the right frame of mind, persistence and the right support, anything can be achieved – so please do not despair: look at the circumstances rationally and make the most of your opportunities.
In recent months, it seems to me, as the world has been preoccupied with how to deal with the global financial crisis, it has forgotten how important our young people are to the future. How can we afford to waste their ambition, their talent and their hard-earned degrees?
We ought to use them before their time and talent are wasted. They are our hope for tomorrow, and they need support and guidance in the current gloom – from parents, schools and universities, and public and private sectors.
Recently I met a group of new graduates, all of whom looked lost and disappointed, and we explored some ideas on how they might pursue their careers in the economic downturn. Here’s what I told them.
First, you may need to lower your job expectations. You must face the reality boldly, and it is advisable to obtain any sort of employment first, rather than wait for that dream job. Graduates may also need to prepare themselves to work from the bottom, and accept a salary rather lower than they had anticipated.
Second, you need to attend career fairs and to apply to as many companies as possible, which will increase the probability of interviews and potential employment.
Third, graduates should make the most of each interview to show yourselves in the best possible light. And when you experience failure you should not be disappointed: tell yourself that failure is inevitable in life, and you should adjust your mood and feel privileged because you gained an experience.
Fourth, approach your university career centre. It should provide a series of guidance courses to help graduates to become aware of the employment situation, build confidence and establish positive attitudes.
Lastly my message to young people is: determination is a prerequisite for success. Welcome everything that comes your way, good or bad, you will be thankful for it all, and I promise you will gain experience from it all. Adopt an attitude of perseverance.
We must all work together to ensure that the correct measures are taken for graduates to pursue and secure a career. For our tomorrow to be promising, we must take care today of the building blocks of our economy – our young people.
As published in The National on 1 March 2009