Fingers out, on your bikes

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Graduates must get used to the new job market and skill up.

So, yet more headlines about how there aren’t any jobs for graduates.

It’s not that I don’t feel sorry for this lot – their youth and the decadent ease of life in the UK in the 2000s has left them unprepared for the harsh realities of the real world. But now they really need to get their fingers out and get on their bikes, metaphorically speaking.

When I left college in 1985, it was the middle of a recession. There were no jobs. Even friends who’d left just a year before had managed to get good white-collar jobs, but suddenly there was nothing. 

My 2.2 in Classics from Kings, London was precisely no use to anyone – it was a stupid degree to have done, in retrospect. I was effectively unemployable, and so I remained unemployed – for a year.

I wanted to work in book publishing, so I applied to every single book publisher in London and the South-East, had four job interviews and no offers. I then swallowed my pride and applied for jobs in accountancy – something I very much did NOT want to do. I forget how many job interviews, and at the end of it all, one job offer, which fortunately arrived the same week as a job offer in journalism, which I took. Thus was I saved from the professions. 

I’m not sure how many jobs I applied for altogether – well over 200 in the course of a year (every single accountancy firm in London, plus every newspaper, and on one particular day, 14 separate jobs) – and meanwhile, I used my own meagre savings to put myself through secretarial college, learning shorthand, programming and audio typing.

While applying for jobs, I worked as a temp secretary in a range of businesses, including the DSS and health service admin departments. In fact, when the accountancy and journalism job offers arrived, I had just sat the first paper of the Civil Service exam (the Civil Service was something else I didn’t want to be part of), and it was my skills in typing, computers and programming that actually got me a job, not my degree.

Today’s graduates are going to have to get real and realise they need to apply for every job going, not just the ones they want. Gone are the days of cherry picking – of getting a middling degree in a non-vocational subject and then becoming a commodities broker and being filthy rich for the rest of your life. This is no ambition for an educated person, and it’s not what the public subsidises education FOR, either. The country needs doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists. To a lesser extent it benefits from creatives, but what it doesn’t need is shedloads of graduates coasting for three years and then walking straight into the financial services industry.

The job market is awful at present, and of course it’s depressing. But welcome to the real world, sunshine.

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