Graduates entering the best Irish jobs market in over a decade

Grad Week: Most graduates have viable opportunities to secure jobs in Ireland

Anyone who can speak a foreign language, particularly if they also have sales, business or IT skills, can more or less take their pick of jobs. Photograph: iStock

Anyone who can speak a foreign language, particularly if they also have sales, business or IT skills, can more or less take their pick of jobs. Photograph: iStock


Some graduates can’t get out of college fast enough. They run out through the gates and into the independent adult world of rent, bills, responsibility – but it’s worth it, they think, for the freedom.

Others have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, away from what may have been the best years of their life, and stitched into a desk for the daily grind of work.

Either way, it could be a lot worse. The class of 2019/2020 enters the best Irish jobs market in more than a decade, an impressive feat considering the last three years have been particularly bountiful, too. Perhaps the class of 2021, mired in a recession reminiscent of 2012 – when graduates needed a masters qualification to work in the local shop while their peers hopped on planes to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East – will look back in envy at these heady days of rising rents, housing shortages, rising living costs and a wave of samey businesses wiping out all that is unique about urban cultural life.

But, for now at least, despite ongoing concerns about the treatment and pay of new teachers and nurses, most graduates have viable opportunities to secure jobs here. 

“The jobs marketplace remains very healthy,” says Ruairi Kavanagh, editor of gradireland, a popular graduate careers site. “Over 80 per cent of employers are planning to increase or retain their levels of graduate recruitment.”

How are graduates faring?

According to a survey carried out by the Higher Education Authority, 78 per cent of graduates from universities and institutes of technology were working or about to start, and this figure rose to 80 per cent for graduates of colleges (many of which train teachers or doctors).

Christiane Brennan, a careers advisor with the Technological University of Dublin, says graduates are doing well. “This generation are aware of the importance of work-life balance and of making a difference. They have a strong social conscience and, while they know they will have to work hard at the beginning of their career, they’re also aware of finding fulfilment in a job that suits them and is right for them. It was a different story during the last recession, but because the market is so good at the moment, they don’t have to grab the first job available. They have the luxury of more choice.”

Data from the Central Statistics Office shows the number of emigrants fell from 64,800 in the year ending April 2017 to 56,300 in the year ending April 2018.

What do graduates want?

“It’s common for them to come to us and say they’re not sure what they want to do, especially if they’ve done a general degree,” says Brennan. “This is why we do career development programmes with them, and we recognise that an important part of the working week is doing something fulfilling that you enjoy.”

Graduates should not feel confined. “You might be a computer scientist with a 2.1 but if what you really enjoyed was being involved in clubs and societies, software development may not be for you. You could look at technical sales or a different route. We stress to graduates that 60 per cent of the employers who come to us – and we are in contact with them all the time – don’t care what degree students have. This can be a huge relief to students who have studied for four years but decide they don’t want to work in that area.”

There are many postgrad conversion courses that graduates can consider. “Life is too short to be in a job that doesn’t suit you,” says Brennan.

What sectors are hiring?

Gradireland surveys employers across 12 different sectors in the economy. Tech and IT, finance, accounting, recruitment, science (including medical devices), engineering, retail and fast-moving consumer goods, digital media and marketing, leisure and tourism, law, construction and property are all hiring at the moment, says Kavanagh.

Primary and post-primary teachers, childcare workers, chefs and health professionals are also in high demand, even if the pay and conditions aren’t enough to compete with overseas opportunities.

Anyone who can speak a foreign language, particularly if they also have sales, business or IT skills, can more or less take their pick of jobs. “This need will be amplified by Brexit, as Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the European Union. If you can match business acumen with data analytics and a foreign language, you would be perfect for a company looking to project abroad – especially in EU markets.”

There’s also a lot of opportunities within sectors. “You can work in places like PwC with much-needed qualifications in digital media and marketing,” says Kavanagh. “In retail, people with data analytics are needed. Graduates with legal qualifications might be in demand in various firms and could work in areas like human resources or recruitment. In the food and drink sector, you may find yourself working to organise in-house events.”

Where is the competition tough?

There will always be competition for good jobs, even in areas with skills shortages, says Kavanagh. These include some areas of technology and, more notably, journalism and PR, where competition for jobs is fierce.

“There are more places to get published, but the frequency at which a journalist can be published makes the salary less attractive,” he says.

What are salaries – and expectations – like?

Gradireland’s figures show salaries breaking through the €30,000 mark – up about €100 from last year. Of course, this varies significantly between sectors and regions.

Another survey, this one from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), found the average full-time starting salary for the class of 2017 was €33,574. It’s likely this figure has risen somewhat in the intervening two years.

Arts and humanities graduates have the lowest starting salaries and employment numbers, according to the HEA data, but this may be because a high number of arts graduates go on to a postgraduate course. Teachers have the highest starting salaries.

“It can be hard to start off on high wages of €34,000-€40,000,” says Kavanagh. “Our surveys show that the current generation are aspirational, with 71 per cent prepared to accept a lower salary if they felt the employer was a good match for them, while 73 per cent felt it is more important to be fulfilled on the job and to identify with employers and what the employer is doing. They are pragmatic enough to know that it can be hard to find the right job.”

Very few employers are taking on unpaid internships, and there’s very little justification for any to do so: look cautiously at those that ask you to work for free.

“There are many graduate recruitment programmes which will be attractive to students,” says Kavanagh.

Will Brexit wreck everything?

At the time of writing and, most likely, time of publication, we don’t yet know the shape of Brexit. The impact of any Brexit, however, is likely to have different impacts on different sectors.

“If you are doing a degree in logistics/ supply chain, it will have a serious bearing on how the work is done,” says Kavanagh. “It will also provide opportunities, with big data companies, finance and banking coming to Ireland. Learning a language or having a skill that enables you to work with firms will open up opportunities for an internationally-minded graduate.”

Employers certainly don’t seem to be scaling back on graduate recruitment in Ireland, with 52 per cent of firms increasing their intake, according to a survey by gradireland.

“How graduates are recruited has evolved,” says Kavanagh. “It is much more strategic and the thinking is long-term and focused on career pipelines. They would not be splashing the cash now if they worried about being holed below the waterline on November 1st.”

The gradireland fair will be held in the RDS in Dublin on October 2nd,

Gradireland survey

It will be tough to get a good job in 2019

Agree: 46%

Disagree: 39.8%

No opinion: 14.8%

It is more important for me to be fulfilled than to earn lots of money

Agree: 73.4%

Disagree: 13.7%

No opinion: 11.1%

My course provides me with the skills necessary for the labour market

Agree: 68.5%

Disagree: 18.2%

No opinion: 13.3%

I am thinking about founding my own start-up company during or straight after my studies

Agree: 21.1%

Disagree: 51.5%

No opinion: 20.2%

Work experience

An internship: 38.2%

A legal vacation scheme: 1.8%

An employer insight day/ week: 13.9%

A part-time job: 69.5%

Voluntary/ charity work: 39.4%