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Many of Scotland's graduates struggle in harsh job market

27 Jul 2012

Citizens Advice Scotland have today published a major new report showing how Scotland’s graduates have been hit by the recession.  ‘Degrees of Insecurity’ is based on a CAS survey of nearly 1,000 recent Scottish graduates, and reveals that many of them struggle with unemployment or low income jobs as they enter the job market.

Key findings in the survey are:

  • 56.3% said they had been unemployed for a period after graduating. Of these, 20% had been unemployed for over a year
  • 24.8% said they were currently ‘under-employed’ in low-paid or short-term positions that did not require a degree
  • Of those who were unemployed or under-employed, only 15.2% said they were confident of finding a graduate-level job in future
  • 59.9% said the careers advice provided at school was poor
  • 78.4% said the jobcentre was unhelpful in finding them a graduate-level job, and 64.2% said it was unhelpful in finding them any sort of job.

Publishing the report today, CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch says:

“We undertook this research because CABs all over Scotland were reporting to us that they were seeing an increase in the numbers of graduates who were struggling with unemployment and low incomes.

“Many graduates of course are able to find satisfying work after they obtain their degree. But our survey reveals that worrying numbers are not. And many of them feel deeply frustrated that they are unable to make the progress in their lives they were expecting to make after graduation.

“Having been told a degree was the key to a successful and prosperous life, and having worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get one, many Scots have then found themselves entrenched instead in a culture of unemployment or low wages and short term contracts. Meanwhile, support from agencies like the jobcentre seems to be sadly lacking.

“It’s heart-rending to read so many accounts of people, once full of hope for the future, who feel their lives are on hold. Some are even questioning whether it was worth the time, money and effort they put into getting their degrees. We would never say that a degree is not worthwhile, but this survey reveals in stark detail the extent of the crisis that many graduates are facing.

“Having met with a number of student groups and graduate organisations as we gathered this research, we have included in the report a list of practical recommendations of how we think these problems could be addressed. Essentially, students and graduates need much more support in managing the transition from graduation into work.”

The CAS research report, ‘Degrees of Insecurity’, is available online at http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/degrees-insecurity.

It contains detailed analysis of our figures, and many quotes from the graduates we surveyed. Some of these comments are re-produced below.

Notes to editors

Scottish graduates - in their own words:

Nearly 1,000 Scottish graduates responded to our survey in April/May. These are some of the things they told us…
NB All of these comments are contained in our ‘Degrees of Insecurity’ report.

On how hard it is to get a job

‘I feel I am losing all hope in getting a job using my degree. I am losing confidence in myself, my knowledge, skills and also the job market.’
22 year old, 2010 graduate in Retailing

“Although I have not been unemployed, I have been working in low skilled, low paid jobs to keep an income. I feel incredibly frustrated that after two law degrees I still can’t find the economic security I thought was guaranteed.”
24 year old, 2010 graduate in Law and Governance

“Graduates have that horrific Catch 22 situation where employers want experience, but if nobody will give you the experience, how are you meant to get a job? Yikes! It’s a conundrum. People who are lucky enough to get an entry-level position can usually find this is the leverage they need to get a foot on the ladder, but it’s tough getting there in the first place with so much competition.”
27 year old, 2008 graduate in Creative Advertising

“I was unemployed for three months after graduating. I found it hard to even get a minimum wage job. My qualifications meant many places would not take me on as they assumed I would leave after a month or two for a better paid job.”
24 year old, 2009 graduate in Event Management & International Marketing.

“The general vibe of the media, my peers and tutors is that the market for jobs is bleak and it shows no sign of improving. It’s really disheartening after investing so much time in education. This is particularly difficult when the degree you have obtained is primarily focused in one professional area.”
23 year old, 2009 graduate in Law

“I am still working in my 17-hour a week job stacking shelves I had when I was a student. I do not count in graduate unemployment statistics because of my job, but I did not get the job as a result of any of my qualifications and surely shelf-stacking is not what one would go to the time effort and expense of studying a PhD for at any rate.”
28 year old, 2011 graduate with a PhD in Art

“Since graduating in 2009 all my jobs have been in cafes and bars and completely unrelated to anything I studied at University.”
24 year old, 2009 graduate in Criminological Studies

On how poorly they were prepared for life after graduation

“At school I was encouraged to apply for university courses but not given the proper time or advice to think about what I really wanted to do.”
23 year old, 2010 graduate in Politics

“At my school we were not really educated at all about the job market. They would tell you what your course could lead to, but they failed to mention that it is incredibly difficult to get those jobs without any work experience.”
23 year old, 2010 graduate in Computer Animation

“I believe I was well-advised about what courses I could do at the various universities. However there was perhaps a less realistic focus on how I could use my degree after I achieved it. I just automatically assumed that I would step into a relevant, decent role which simply hasn’t been the case’.”
24 year old, 2011 graduate in Journalism and Creative Writing

“If you are academically talented at school, you are put on a conveyer belt to uni. Other options seemed to be brushed aside, such as work experience, college and so forth. These are all other paths that can lead to a good, stable career. At school age, I was so focused on getting into University that there was very little discussed as to what my future career prospects would be.”
22 year old, 2011 graduate in Music

“Whilst I received valuable advice from the university careers service, I didn’t feel as if the service was well advertised. Certainly nothing was said about it by our university department and it was only in the final term of my final year that I felt compelled to give them a visit.”
25 year old, 2009 graduate in History

“At uni, too much coursework focuses on theory, with little to no practical, real-world application. Graduates are not prepared to face the demands and expectations of the current workplace, especially given how we must all do so much more with so much less.”
33 year old, 2010 graduate in Network Computing

“I think academic departments are not focused on preparing students for the job market.”
27 year old, 2010 graduate in Geography
“As a ‘First in family’ student, I was quite clueless about university all the way through - probably partly due to me not taking information in/not seeking it out, but also partly to do with the lack of support in my department. No Careers advice was ever offered as part of our classes, nor were we encouraged to go to the Careers Service.”
25 year old, 2008 graduate in French and Spanish

On the poor service offered by Jobcentres

“I felt like I had to ‘dumb down’ my qualifications in order to find a job through the Jobcentre. I wasn’t prepared to do this and was not made to feel comfortable as a result.”
22 year old, 2011 graduate in Languages: Interpreting and Translating

“At the group meetings we were encouraged to leave any degree off the CV to help us find more plentiful unskilled work. Nobody would employ me as a cleaner if I had a degree. I was told to stop looking for graduate work and take a ‘survival’ job.”
25 year old, 2008 graduate in Law

“The Jobcentre was not interested in my degree and they were unhelpful in assisting in the job search process, either at graduate level or otherwise. Frequently they seemed to suggest that, if anything, my qualification and level of education were a deterrent to possible future employers.”
25 year old, 2011 graduate in Art History

“Having worked part-time in retail throughout university, they focused on finding me a job in retail which ‘suited my experience’. However, this neglected the fact I had a degree, related internships and completely different career aspirations related to my studies in politics and public policy.”
22 year old, 2011 graduate in Politics & Public Policy
“When I go to the jobcentre I get a really inconsistent service. Some advisers seem genuinely keen to get me into a job, others barely talk to me, I’m just there to sign my name and leave.”
24 year old, 2011 graduate in Genetics

On what advice they would give to future students

“Get experience whilst you’re studying. It is ruthlessly competitive and the qualification will only meet one element of what a future employer wants to see. It’s like a blank colouring-in book!”
30 year old, 2009 graduate in Urban and Regional Planning

“Make sure you build up experience! Use the careers service as much as possible. If you can afford to, do a summer placement in a related field. Don’t expect to get help into a graduate job from the Jobcentre.”
25 year old, 2009 graduate in Geography

“Try to get relevant experience when you’re at university so you hit the ground running. Work over summers, work in a part time job, try to get work experience placements, speak to as many people as possible and try to make contacts. Stand out from the crowd, be creative and most of all, keep at it. Hard work reaps rewards - you’ll get there eventually.”
27 year old, 2007 graduate in Creative Advertising

“Learn how to sell yourself and your transferable skills even if you don’t have direct experience of the particular industry, the chances are you will have skills that you can apply. Learn to identify them and sell!”
27 year old, 2006 graduate in Accountancy

“Ensure that your CV demonstrates the key competencies which most employers are looking for such as team work, communication, problem solving, and decision making.”
28 year old, 2006 graduate in International Business and Modern Languages

“Research all career opportunities related to your chosen subject before you start it.”
28 year old 2006 graduate in Neuroscience, Glasgow

“Start thinking about a career as soon as you start university. Don’t become complacent. Take your summer holidays to take work experience and gather skills you can carry into the workplace. Create contact with your careers service as soon as you can.”
25 year old, 2009 graduate in History

“Decide what you want your career to be then work out how to get there. A degree may not be necessary. Don’t do a degree for the sake of it and make sure it is related to getting you the job you want.”
28 year old, 2007 graduate Chemical Engineering

“Try not to have unrealistic expectations of how much you should earn in your first ‘graduate job’ and how quickly you should progress. I’d suggest that most graduate recruits probably earn a reasonably modest salary and won’t be gifted with a high level of autonomy.”
29 year old, 2007 graduate in Biological Science

“Be prepared to accept work you are over qualified for while you pursue your desired career.”
22 year old, 2011 graduate in Philosophy