The new graduate job ethos: flexibility is the key to Gen Y careers

Research confirms a new trend in the graduate labour market comprised of Generation Ys. Recent graduates have a tendency to form an increasingly transient workforce, demanding flexibility and shifting careers more than any generation before them. There are vast differences between recent graduates’ innate abilities and attitudes towards work compared to previous generations. Current graduates tend to be more financially and technically savvy, have a greater focus earlier on in their careers about achieving work/life balance, and are generally more accustomed to change.

Graduate job prospects

Employers are exploring new ways to recruit, retain and attract new graduates with offers of flexible hours, benefits and other qualities generally attractive to this segment of the population. Graduate careers are increasingly likely to be more flexible in nature with the Harvey Nash/CBI Employment Trends Survey published on 21 June reporting that 96% of employers now offer at least one form of flexible working.

The same survey reported that “job prospects are slowly improving for graduates, with the overall balance between firms expecting higher and lower graduate recruitment at +9%”. Despite the projected increase in recruitment in some sectors, intense competition for vacancies remains. The Association of Graduate Recruiters reported that graduates will face record levels of competition for jobs with the number of applications increasing to an average of 83 per vacancy in 2011 up from 31 in 2008. Data from the Office of National Statistics supports this, reporting that “since the onset of the most recent recession, the unemployment rate for new graduates was up to 20% in the third quarter of 2010, the highest unemployment rate for new graduates in over a decade”.

One bit of good news for graduates was reported by London Metropolitan University. They believe the value of having a degree is still considerable and a real asset for career progression and earning power regardless of the growing numbers entering higher education each year. They state that “the gap between the earnings of graduates and qualified non-graduates continues to increase over 10 to 15 years after graduation”. In addition, Graduate Market Trends, a quarterly review of the graduate labour market from Graduate Prospects, reported that the unemployment rate for graduates is significantly lower than for non-graduates.

Thinking flexibily

The eagerness for change and need for flexibility that is characteristic of current graduates will invariably mean that there are many graduates seeking career changes despite of and in reaction to the difficult environment. If this is you, here are some tips about how to pursue a change in career.

Passion for change: Anyone contemplating a career change in the current climate should have a solid rationale or motivation such as location, compensation, career satisfaction, work/life balance, because it will require a great deal of dedication and perseverance to make a move. It might be useful to have an overall career change strategy in mind, or in writing if that suits your style, which includes a timeline and financial considerations. It will help you to stay focused and organised throughout the process.

Research options: Career changers should spend significant time researching and investigating career options that interest them, giving careful consideration to market demand for jobs (for example, try to target a growth industry), salary, location, and long-term prospects. Be imaginative and consider all of your alternatives such as freelancing, self-employment or a portfolio career.

Align skills, interests and qualifications: Ensure that the new career path is aligned with your abilities, interests and qualifications and if not, then formulate an action plan to help you increase your range of skills. This can be done via distance learning and/or part-time and should be embarked upon immediately after identifying any skills gaps to ensure that your search process does not get held up.

Be flexible and creative: Consider apprenticeships, internships, and voluntary, temporary or contract work in your area of interest as a way of getting a foot in the door. This will enable you to gain relevant experience, potentially part-time while you are still earning an income. Organisations are increasingly open to these types of workers with vacancies for temporary staff increasing by 7% according to the CBI/Harvey Nash survey.

Network: This is particularly important in the current environment. It is about actively making connections and building new relationships by identifying the right people to approach in your area of interest. It could be as simple as arranging an exploratory meeting with someone who is doing the type of job you want to do.

Sell yourself: Identify your niche, a special area of demand that is suited to your interests and discover the unique selling points that will demonstrate to recruiters how you can fill that niche. Define the ways your past job performance is an asset to your future employer. Ensure that you make a great first impression by being well prepared for interviews and make a point of learning as much as you can about the company.

In light of the competitive market, candidates who are willing to be adaptable, flexible and creative in their career pursuit, either through unpaid internships or other non-traditional ways of working such as volunteering, will stand out in the job application process. The current landscape of positions available includes more temporary/contract work, internships and project-based work, which could prove to be a good fit for Generation Ys who are looking for more flexibility.

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