The outlook for graduates: plenty of options available

Salaries may not be going as far as they did in recent years but opportunities do lie ahead

It’s always better to start with the bad news. The rising cost of living and the real challenge of paying the rent – that’s if you can even find a place to live – mean that salaries are not going as far as they did a year or two ago.

Now for the good news: whether it’s a starter job in a small company or a place on a graduate programme with one of the world’s largest firms, Irish graduates have plenty of options. Companies from very different sectors are hiring, and many of them are open to graduates from any discipline or background. And the rise of remote working means that graduates don’t necessarily have to find a place to live in Dublin, Cork, Galway or Limerick.

“In terms of jobs I don’t remember this much [employment and hiring] in over 15 years,” says Catherine Staunton, head of careers and employability at Dundalk IT. “It’s very positive across all disciplines but particularly in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and computing sectors, while apprentices are in high demand too.”

But, Staunton points out, employers are open to graduates from all sorts of disciplines and backgrounds.

“A degree is a suite of transferable skills for most modern workplaces, and while there are some roles that do require particular professional competencies – such as a nursing degree for nurses – job applicants should understand the transferability of the skills their degree has given them. And employers want curiosity, a willingness to learn and, most importantly, communication, teamwork and leadership skills. Graduates should be careful not to pigeonhole themselves with the title of their degree. Instead they should look at what the job is.”

Mary McCarthy, careers consultant with the careers service at UCC, agrees that students need to think broadly.

“Arts graduates, for instance, are taught how to think, and the big organisations all value them for this. While there might be a slower start for arts graduates – unless they have been very involved in college life, sports, societies and volunteering, or have built up skills through work placements or experience – they will still be in a position to apply for graduate programmes in different programmes.

“We encourage arts and humanities graduates to be really open-minded and take any graduate entry job that uses interpersonal, thinking and writing skills. These could be customer care support or service jobs that can help get them started, and they can develop more skills from here.”

McCarthy says that there are good jobs out there, particularly in the financial, accounting, technical, business information systems, computer software, engineering and supply chain, but that some employers are struggling to find the right people for the right roles.

“Sometimes students need to be more imaginative in how they look and what they are looking for. This means going beyond the graduate programmes offered by a certain select number of big organisations and looking at postings on job sites like LinkedIn and CareerJet, or through recruitment agencies.”

At UCC, McCarthy and her colleagues have estimated that about 33-38 per cent of graduates go on to graduate recruitment programmes.

“They are often – fairly – considered as the go-to gold standard as they have a clear vision of how to develop a graduate’s potential, with a focus on in-house training, rotation and learning through working. But other graduates are starting with entry-level jobs, perhaps with a small- to medium sized enterprise which is less likely to have a formalised programme. There will, however, still be training and mentoring and a chance to get hands-on experience doing different things across the business.”

Graduates should aim to be adaptable and open-minded, says McCarthy. “This might mean being willing to take a series of six- to nine-month contract roles which can be a launch pad to a higher level job with more scope and responsibility.”

While there’s often a focus on where the jobs are, there’s less focus on the areas where graduates might struggle to find the right role.

“Journalism and creative careers can be harder,” says McCarthy. “Other graduates might want to work in a not-for-profit -–such as a law graduate who wants to work in advocacy and public policy. It takes more patience getting into these areas. They can involve internships and a few months of work experience before applying for a paid job. It is important to be proactive and to really consider what we call ‘the art of action thinking’: how can I be responsive and more proactive, and how can I seize opportunities? Being open-minded, persistent and curious, following your interest, finding out more about the roles, building connections and asking questions help. Be prepared to take risks: if it’s a six-week-job, go for it.”

Staunton says that there can be a focus on being hired, but that growing numbers of graduates are working for themselves, particularly in creative and media industries, including writing and design. “It helps to have a placement or internship built into the course and, in creative careers, to make connections. In these careers as well your assignments or college activities may be crucial as part of your portfolio.

Whatever role graduates apply for, McCarthy and Staunton say that graduates should try not to rule anything out.

“Cast your net a bit wider: in the post-Covid era you don’t necessarily have to be commuting to Dublin on a daily basis, as was the norm,” says Staunton. “Now the rise of remote working makes people look locally too. We are definitely seeing the practicalities and expense of living impact on graduate decisions, and many are staying locally.”

“Don’t have a tunnel vision of the job you want – be open-minded,” McCarthy says. “There are lots of jobs out there, so be adaptable and see the potential in any of them.”

Emer McGrath, head of audit at KPMG, agrees. “”It’s great to have a focus or a target in terms of the type of job you want. But in reality at the start of your career it’s not always easy to be specific about what you want to do and where you see your career developing.

“The good news is that many skills are transferable – for example a passion for business can be demonstrated in various ways, as can problem-solving, collaborating with other people, being comfortable with detail and financial data and so on.

“The best starting point is to be yourself,” McGrath says. “Your career is all about you and what you’re genuinely interested in. So being curious about the role and being able to demonstrate this interest – coupled with the relevant skills – is critical in any job interview.”