Your first step on a long career path

Key sectors of the economy offer excellent long-term employment prospects

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and science student Barbara Wood at the UCD Centre for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery in Belfield, Dublin. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and science student Barbara Wood at the UCD Centre for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery in Belfield, Dublin. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh


You have your CAO offer, and you’re all set for the college experience. Psyched and nervous, you make plans for where you will live, what clubs and societies you will join, and all the amazing summer adventures you will have in foreign climes.

And now for the boring bit. What about a job after college? For some, it’s very simple: the architecture students become architects, the veterinary students become vets, and the medical students become doctors. Other students may already be breezily making plans for their new life in Australia, land of jobs and opportunity.

They may be jumping the gun. Mark Mitchell of GradIreland. ie, which publishes the Grad Ireland Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey, says that employment prospects for graduates are improving.

“There is an interesting divergence in attitudes between employers and graduates. The students we surveyed are more negative about their jobs prospects than they were a year ago, but employers have increased optimism about the number of graduates they expect to take on this year. The jobs market for graduates is bouncing back.”

The average number of graduates hired into postgraduate programmes has gone from 11 per cent in 2012 to 14.5 per cent in 2013. According to the Grad Ireland survey, only 11.2 per cent of employers forecast no new hires this year, compared to 32.5 per cent in 2012.

What about first-year college students without a clear career path?

Certain sectors of the economy have significant skills shortages, and wily freshers who choose their subjects carefully can set themselves up for better job prospects (see panel below). Languages are one area with notable skills shortages: employers want multilingual finance and accounting technicians; marketing professionals; sales, accounts and business development managers.

Employability skills
“It is not only the programme field that is important, but also what the course offers to help improve employability skills,” says Marie Bourke of Forfás, which advises on future skills needs. “Students should seek opportunities to continue to develop the foreign language proficiency gained at second level including through Erasmus study and/or work placements abroad in the course of their higher education study.”

The Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey also points to what employers really value: communication skills (especially verbal and analytical skills), problem solving, and managing their own learning. “Get involved in student societies, team-based exercises, and modules that involve teamwork,” suggests Mitchell. “But the most important way to improve your employability is to get work experience.” More than 87 per cent of graduate recruiters value internships, and nearly 42 per cent apportion more value to relevant experience than postgraduate study.

A separate GradIreland survey, published last year, showed that 60 per cent of employers expect a 2:1 degree or more. Enjoy first year, settle in, and make new friends, but get ready to focus from second year onwards.

Get involved
However, college isn’t just about the end game.

Employers with CVs from two candidates with two identical 2:1 degrees will opt, every time, for the graduate who got involved in college life – joined a sports team, ran a college society, wrote for the student newspaper, volunteered with a charity, got involved with the students’ union, or organised events.

That said, clubs and societies are, and should be, places to make new friends, discover new interests and expand your horizons – don’t join them (and wreck it for everybody else) just because you think it will look good on your CV.

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