Graduates face kinder job market with more potential

The economy is growing, youth unemployment is starting to fall, and more jobs are being advertised. It’s the best time to be a graduate for the past five years

Career potential: Ibec’s food-and-drink marketing programme will give 28 graduates the opportunity to work with sponsor companies for 18 months. Pictured at the launch were (back) Katie O’Donoghue, placed with Tullamore Dew in San Francisco, David Broderick of Ibec, Mary-Jade Hynes, placed with Tullamore Dew in Chicago, (front) Rebecca Savage, placed with Jim Beam in Minneapolis, and Conor Neville, placed with Tullamore Dew in San Francisco. Photograph: Gary O’Neill

Career potential: Ibec’s food-and-drink marketing programme will give 28 graduates the opportunity to work with sponsor companies for 18 months. Pictured at the launch were (back) Katie O’Donoghue, placed with Tullamore Dew in San Francisco, David Broderick of Ibec, Mary-Jade Hynes, placed with Tullamore Dew in Chicago, (front) Rebecca Savage, placed with Jim Beam in Minneapolis, and Conor Neville, placed with Tullamore Dew in San Francisco. Photograph: Gary O’Neill

 

Three years ago, there were little or no job opportunities. Emigration, unemployment or an unpaid internship loomed large for graduates. Since then, the economy has started to improve. Ireland enjoyed annualised growth in the second quarter of 7.7 per cent, compared to the same period last year. The forecast for economic growth has risen from about 3 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

Youth unemployment is starting to fall, while the unemployment rate for graduates with an honours degree or higher is 6.4 per cent, compared to 14 per cent for those with a Leaving Cert only. More jobs are being advertised. Companies are expanding their graduate recruitment programmes. Domestic demand is rising.

Although the effects of the banking crash continue to be felt, this generation of graduates can perhaps be more hopeful than those who left college in the years immediately before or after the recession. They are less saddled with negative equity mortgages, less affected by youth unemployment and the long-term consequences of emigration, but with enough memory of the painful years of recession to avoid making the same mistakes.

Jane Lorigan, the chief executive of recruiter Saongroup, which includes Irishjobs.ie, says the number of recruiters hiring graduates has rising substantially in the past year. “The year-on-year growth in the number of jobs being carried on Irishjobs and jobs.ie has gone up by around 5 per cent from last year, and we are noticing steady and consistent growth. There is a demand for entry-level positions across industry sectors,” she said.

Recruitment is a leading indicator of economic progress and there has been an upturn in the first half of this year. Some areas have remained strong, while demand for staff has grown in others.

“The demand for IT and languages continues unabated, but there are newer growth areas. We are seeing a demand for nurses and a growing need in the hospitality industry for staff, not just chefs.”

Demand for medical professionals has risen 19 per cent from the third quarter of last year, according to Saongroup’s figures, while demand for science, pharmaceutical and food professionals is up 27 per cent.

The growth in domestic demand will lead to more jobs, says Tony Donohue, the head of education policy at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec).

“We would expect that demand for employees in service-oriented jobs such as retail and construction may rise. The real drivers of growth, however, are the export sector especially the agri-food sector, medical devices, ICT – and jobs with a language.

“The winning combination is a technical qualification with a foreign language. But our primary message is that, for students with an aptitude and interest in science, technology, engineering and maths, there are good career and employability opportunities.”

There are opportunities, but graduates have to know how to make the best of them. Lorigan offers practical advice: “Be proactive. Don’t wait until you’re out of college to start your job-hunt. It should start before you leave college. Build your network. Identify key companies. Get experience. Try and make contacts with the companies beforehand. Set up a LinkedIn account and build connections with people you know.”

There can be a disconnect between the skills of students when they leave college, and the needs of employers. “We often find that students come onto the jobs market but don’t have the language or the preparation to translate what they have learned in college into something that is attractive to an employer,” says Donohue.

“This can be addressed by being prepared. Look at what the employer wants and how you can match that to your educational qualifications and your experience in college over the last few years – volunteering or entrepreneurial work being as important as work experience or travel.”

Lorigan agrees that this gap can be bridged. “Some students coming from college may not have a huge amount of work experience for a particular role, but they probably do have relevant transferable skills.

“If you have worked in a bar or restaurant for a summer job, you are used to dealing with the public and will have developed communication skills. If you have been involved in running a college society or organising events, those are management and communications skills you can build on. If you’ve been involved in Coderdojo, you will have education and coding skills.”

Problems arise, says Lorigan, when graduates focus on what they can get from a role, rather than what they can offer a company. “It doesn’t come across well if, during a job interview, they focus on themselves and what they want, rather than selling the benefits of what the company is going to get. Look at the issue from the company’s point of view. See how you can be a help and an asset to them.”

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