Grating Expectations

How expectations – employers, institutions, parents and our own – are a graduate’s worst enemy yet best hope.

In discussions about graduates I have heard a new maxim beginning to reiterate itself on the lips of older generations; ‘graduates aren’t ready for work’. The often critical tone in which it is voiced suggests the problem lies with graduates; in fact the problem was created and made worse by employers.

I’m sorry son, you’re too old for this graduate programme.

But it’s unrealistic to assume graduates to be ‘work ready’ without workplaces accommodating them in any form. Employers demand too much; they want an education system that suits them, but do nothing to encourage the results they desire. The burden of making us employees is as much on the employer as it is on graduates or the institutions that produce them.

Graduate schemes are promising in recognising graduates are diamonds in the rough, but are saturated with competition.  Why do firms not offer to sponsor undergraduates through university with requirements to perform well and undertake vacation schemes in order to help graduates be ‘work-ready’? Recruitment agencies could instantly improve the quality of their supply of labour by mentoring undergraduates and graduates, and benefit from placing higher quality candidates later.

The infamous solution offered by some employers to solve the ‘unready’ is unpaid internships. At their best they are a blunt and punishing screening process that favours wealthy candidates. If you want to volunteer, do so, but don’t be fooled into working for free. Government needs to oversee this; ban unpaid internships to protect graduates but also offer incentives to hire young graduates such as National Insurance holidays for 18 – 24 years olds.

The advice offered to graduates in order to become work ready is often repetitive and reads like clichés from self-help books even if they contain elements of truth; network, learn new skills, use social media, take up experience where you can. But there is one dangerous piece of advice to warn against; lower your expectations.

The most important piece of preparation for work is taking time to figure out what you want with your life. Do not compromise your outlook because it is at odds with expectations of others. It is neither vanity nor naivety to aspire to what you want to do with your time.

In a recent ‘Graduate Debate’ held by Katie Bard the panel of employers and graduates was asked should graduates pursue a job or a career. I found the question wanting. What graduates should really search for is a vocation; preparedness for jobs and careers follow from answering that question. Employers should recognise that fact by offering opportunities for vocation in their organisations.

Much of this diatribe may leave graduates asking ‘what’s the silver lining?’ But if employers expect us to be unprepared for work this is an invaluable opportunity to surprise them with the quality we have to offer. As graduates we are youthful individuals, with talent, high level skills and enthusiasm. If the employers need to wake up and realise some work on their part is required to make us ‘work-ready’ employees, then surely graduates themselves are the wake-up call they need.Related articles

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