There have never been more people at work. Employers are crying out for staff, and the current crop of graduates have more opportunities than ever before.
Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show that most sectors of the economy have grown over the past year, with particular surges in accommodation and food, construction, information and communication technology, science and professional services. Unemployment, at just 4.5 per cent, is the lowest it has been since 2005.
For job-seekers, this is all good news - even though it doesn’t take away the biggest hurdle for even the best-paid graduates: finding a place to live or even a room to rent. And, at a time when rampant inflation and soaring energy costs are driving up prices for everyone, having a decent job is no guarantee that you can pay the bills.
“There are warning signs in the economic outlook,” says Joan McNaboe, who heads up the skills and labour labour market research at Solas, the further education and training agency.
“There is rising inflation, supply chain issues and a slowdown in consumption - all negative indicators - and yet it is not showing. We have rarely, if ever, had such a boom in the economy with these kinds of dark clouds over us.”
The jobs outlook
The pandemic saw many doors close for young people, with a spike in youth unemployment. The recent CSO labour force survey, however, found that the unemployment rate among 15-24 year-olds was 11 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, down from 21.1 per cent from the same time period last year.
“There are lots of jobs for graduates, and we have never been as busy with advertising graduate programmes,” says Brendan Baker, head of the career development centre at Maynooth University.
“After Covid, companies are keen to get back out there and meet graduates, and they want to come to campus. They are competing for graduates, and our office is letting graduates know about the jobs out there and how to work through the application processes.”
Ruairi Kavanagh, editor of gradireland.com, which will run its graduate fair in Dublin’s RDS on September 28, says that graduate recruitment is in a healthy place.
“It is the biggest fair we have ever had, with well over 100 stands. Graduate recruitment is in a good place as organisations see to build up their pipeline again, and companies are willing to invest in graduates.
“The pandemic saw some companies pausing or scaling back their graduates programmes, but most kept going with virtual onboarding where possible. And, of course, there were areas like transport, logistics, retail and life sciences where graduates were still needed to be there in person.
“While we are in uncertain times with inflation, talk of recession, and international conflict, there is still a lot for graduates to be positive about.”
Kavanagh says that there is a path for all graduates, irrespective of their primary degree.
“Employers want well-rounded graduates who have transferable skills, although of course there is particular demand in areas like tech support, data analysis and languages.”
Behind the headlines about skills shortages, McNaboe points out that many of these are actually about the lack of experienced people to take on key roles.
“But more significant than shortages is demand, and we are seeing lots of this. In pharma, employment is really strong and it is creating real demand for engineering roles,” she says.
“The demand for IT professionals, particularly software developers, is creating lots of opportunities.
“Construction has rebounded as a result of government targets for housing and climate [mitigation and sustainability] measures, although it could be impacted by supply chain issues. Related to this is a demand for civil engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, while carpenters, electricians and plumbers are also needed.”
The hospitality sector has been in recovery mode since the pandemic, and there is a high demand for restaurant managers and - for at least the seventh year in a row - there’s still a shortage of chefs.
“The growth of the ICT sector is helping to create a lot of roles, including i sales, technical sales and digital marketing,” says McNaboe.
“Overall, more Irish are coming back than are leaving the country and the availability of remote work is helping to a degree, because people may only have to commute for a day or two a week [which makes it easier to access job opportunities outside the bigger towns and cities].”
Working to exist
Baker is finding that most graduates have a preference for permanent roles as opposed to short-term contracts.
That might sound surprising to those who have bigged up the “gig economy” and pushed the idea of “side hustles” (arguably an effort to normalise the idea of turning hobbies and enjoyment into a second job so you can afford the cost of existence). But for a generation who have little to no security in renting a home, it makes sense to seek security where you can get it, especially where employees have greater choice than ever before in what jobs they apply for.
“At the moment, there is a sense of disillusionment, particularly from graduates who have been in the workplace for a year or two,” says Baker. “They feel they did their [art with school and college, but don’t know now if they will afford a house. In terms of getting into the workforce, however, there are jobs.”
Irish graduates have always emigrated, whether to get new experiences abroad, because work was not available here - and often with both push and pull factors at play. Today, there may be jobs but no viable prospect of a home.
Kavanagh says that the housing crisis is impacting graduates, with more companies hiring people to work remotely because workers cannot find a place to live in Ireland’s main cities and towns.
“Companies are having to look at hybrid and remote working options, even if, long-term, they might prefer employees to be in the office more often than not. But I don’t think anyone anticipated the sea change the pandemic would bring about in terms of the 9am-5pm culture of sitting at your desk.
“There’s no going back. Remote working means you can escape the death march for graduates of having to spend nearly half your salary on rent.”
|Top categories for graduate jobs in Ireland (Jan-Jul 2022):|
|Information design & documentation||6%|
|* Data provided by Indeed.ie|
Positive indicators from survey for career experts
A 2022 graduate employers survey carried out for Association of Higher Education Career Services (AHECS), compiled by the University of Limerick, surveyed 345 local, national and global multinationals, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and not-for-profits across a range of industries.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found that the highest number (43 per cent) of graduate jobs are in the east of Ireland, followed by the southwest at 20 per cent, the southeast at 18 per cent and the midwest at 14 per cent. Meanwhile, 8 per cent of graduate hires were in the border region, 7 per cent in the west, 4 per cent in the midlands and 3 per cent in Northern Ireland.
The survey also found that 84 per cent of companies will recruit at least the same number of graduates as last year, compared to 75 per cent last year. Just 5 per cent said that they will recruit less graduates than last year, and no company said it was planning to cancel its graduate recruitment plans - a positive sign in a time of economic uncertainty.
The average graduate salary, according to the AHECS survey, is €29,287, but those with a masters degree have an average salary of 33,299, while PhD graduates can expect an average of €34,082.
Demand for engineering graduates is high, with 48 per cent of the companies surveyed looking to employ them, while 30 per cent of companies looked for business graduates, 25 per cent wanted ICT and electronics graduates, 16 per cent wanted science graduates, 9 per cent wanted education grads and another 9 per cent wanted humanities graduates, 7 per cent wanted law graduates, 6 per cent wanted creative graduates and another 6 per cent wanted to hire health sciences graduates. Finally, 11 per cent were willing to hire graduates from any discipline.
The survey also indicated that 40 per cent of companies who hired students on work experience later took them back as graduate hires.