Thursday 26 August 2010

What is the point in going to university in 2010? With such an oversupply of graduates, surely many will be modiocre....d

*Why did they stigmatise the ‘Career’ word?

When the Labour Party came to power in 1997 legend has it that they banned the word 'career' from policy-making documents on the grounds that it was "aspirational, discriminatory and elitist". Many of my friends know my favourite retort to this nonsense is the story about the Street Cleaner in London who was given the freedom of the city for never missing a day's work in his 40 year career; shopkeepers could set their watch by his pushing his barrow along the pavement and you could eat your lunch of the footpath it was so clean! When interviewed he exclaimed how proud he was of his career.

I regard myself as being very fortunate that I worked as a Career Adviser in 1996 and 1997, the last years of the previous Conservative government; not because of my political affiliations but because their career services mechanisms were hailed as being the gold standard amongst the 28 OECD countries. What this meant in reality was that 95% of school leavers had at least one careers interview with a trained career professional in their final year and left school with a signed Careers Action Plan including at least half a dozen action points designed to help them fulfil their career goals.

The new Connexions service saw many former career guidance practitioners having to learn to shape-shift into a Personal Adviser and not only help and advise young people on their career strategy, but alongside these challenges they also had to learn about how to assist with welfare payments in complex benefits system, how to intervene in complex family and social traumas, often with their main focus turning to the minority groups in the population whilst the majority were left to flounder. To a large extent this contributed to a significant loss in profile for career guidance professionals and a collapse in professional standards.

Who Said We Need So Many Graduates?

Sadly, the first thing that Tony Blair’s Government did when it came to power was dismantle this internationally acclaimed system for supplying career guidance. The next strange act by the Labour Government was to hurl themselves at getting 50%+ of school leavers into university. Our global competitors don’t need this many graduates. Why do we? Could it be something to do with the smoke and mirrors of hiding the real number of unemployed who would have gone onto the dole queue? I hope not.

This naivety has made a significant impact on the health of the economy as there never could be enough capacity in the British labour market for such a number of graduates when the main reason we lag behind our global competitor’s economically is due to our lack of technicians not our theoreticians and academics. Couple this with the controversial, but increasingly obviously truism that our education system has been dangerously dumbed-down to satisfy the Labour Government’s obsession with targets, and you are left with a potentially broken generation whose career dreams are unfulfillable even before they enter the labour market.

Surviving the agony when reality bites

So within 2 years the whole world has changed beyond recognition and we are staring at a ‘double-dip’ recession. It is now August 2010 and everyone is holding their breath. The ‘Combined Spending Review’ is due out in October and the press are guesstimating between 400,000 and 2miilion public sector workers will lose their jobs in the next 2 years. Many have already gone since the swingeing cuts of the new coalition started to bite immediately post General Election.

The shifts in the tectonic plates of old education policies and the ambitions of the new are going to cause shockwaves felt mainly by the young. Gone are the aspirations of winning door opening degrees with the promise of fast-tracking to success in the ranks of full-employment as reality bites in. Overnight, we are going to have to accept that the supply and demand economics of higher education are changed forever. Universities geared up over 13 years to accommodate thousands of extra spaces now need to reverse that economically dubious trend.

As a would-be graduate considering going to university, take a long hard look at those economics. For the fresh graduate with that newly earned financial millstone around your neck, consider your next steps carefully. What you need to identify quickly are where the skill shortages lie. Where is the oversupply and run quickly in the other direction? Early 21st Century career survival is about adaptability and resilience. People applying for jobs through job ads and recruitment sites are playing an agonising numbers game where they are competing against almost insurmountable odds. Networking your way to job search success is more important now than ever and without these skills, the outlook is stark.

Unorthodox approaches win through. I hope that's an obvious point! Conventional approaches to employment are where all of your competition lies. This is the hardest job search maxim to translate. If you are looking for full-time, permanent, 9 till 5 kind of employment, then you are in the market of over-supply. Take yourself where the demand is high and the supply is low. If moving geographically is required to achieve this, then more power to you for having the gumption to react to labour market demand. It is always a tough decision. (Believe me, I know).

Maybe even consider overseas markets. Maybe even consider self-employment. Have you ever explored the option of being a ‘Portfolio Worker’; someone who possibly has a part-time job to cover the bills on 2 or 3 days per week, a voluntary job to feed the soul and a couple of self-employed contracts to speculate on generating real wealth? This might include buying a franchise, mowing lawns, proof-reading documents, buying, selling and merchanting – maybe using auction sites like Ebay.

The important survival skill in a competitive labour market is to make sure you are not welded to convention. Your parents will likely have experienced a hugely different labour market dynamic and your grandparents, many of whom enjoyed one or two jobs in a career spanning and uninterrupted 50 years, possibly with one company, will have no comprehension of the challenges facing a 21st Century career changer. Unless, of course, they were around in the Great Depression of the 1930s!

Two Eyes on Future Trends

Adapt and survive. Be prepared to take on new challenges. Only stand still with cast iron certainty. But always, always have two eyes on future trends. The labour market never stands still and will continue to evolve. Keeping the British economy at the leading edge of global commerce is an uphill struggle until we sculpt a labour force fit enough and up-to-date enough to compete for overseas currencies. The emerging economic giants of India and China have stolen a march on UK whilst we wondered what to do with 3rd and 4th generation unemployment after the collapse of all of our heavy industry. Ship-building, steel, mining have all gone.

We reinvented ourselves into a Hi-tech nation manufacturing semi-conductors just before the world’s semi-conductor markets collapsed. We then reacted swiftly into the world’s call centre capital and remodelled our science parks into call centre hubs. Sadly, many of our blue-chip organisation decided to outsource our call centres to Asia, Africa and now South America and our call centre hotspots in the North of England and Scotland are fighting to retain their market share. What are we going to do next?

There is no better time to obtain some impartial career advise. To identify a local career professional why not check out:

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What to do if A-levels didn't go according to plan

"Open clinics, first come, first served, for A-Level Students who may not have won their first pick degree course or university.
Are you sure this is a good time to compromise and risk wasting a lot of money? Is university the only option? What are your viable options?"