Opportunities knock for graduates who can show off skills

What’s the current outlook for graduates in Ireland?

Career experts advise that many jobs are never advertised, so there’s nothing wrong with being proactive. Photograph: iStock

Career experts advise that many jobs are never advertised, so there’s nothing wrong with being proactive. Photograph: iStock

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First, the bad news. At this point in time, there remains some uncertainty. While some larger firms are hiring so they won’t end up without key staff in a few years’ time, many small to medium-sized firms are hanging on by their fingernails.

A recent report by Social Justice Ireland’s Employment Monitor predicted that unemployment could exceed 390,000 – a rate of 16.1 per cent of the labour force which would be the highest unemployment rate since 1986. The report predicted that 111,940 (28.7 per cent) of them are 15-34 years old, with unemployment higher outside the greater Dublin area.

On the other hand, many employers are experiencing staff shortages.

The reality, however, is that graduates who can demonstrate skills will remain valuable.

Ruairi Kavanagh, editor of gradireland.com, says while there is uncertainty out there, companies know that graduates are important. “If they stop hiring, they are missing out on the innovation, fresh ideas and digital know-how that is fundamental to our agility as an economy. Companies need graduates to help them reboot, but some budgets are frozen or have downsized human resources.”

Now, the good news. Kavanagh, along with the team at the careers service in Dublin City University, says there are good opportunities for graduates who put their best foot forward.

A degree doesn’t necessarily define your future role, because employers want graduates with the soft skills they learn in any degree

To get a broader overview and a range of sectoral perspectives, we asked the entire DCU careers team – Yvonne McLoughlin, head of the careers service; Siobhán Murphy, who focuses on careers for science, health, law and government graduates; and Elaine Daly, who focuses on careers for education, humanities and social science graduates – for their insights.

Yvonne McLoughlin, head of the DCU careers service, says a degree doesn’t necessarily define your future role, because employers want graduates with the soft skills they learn in any degree.
Yvonne McLoughlin, head of the DCU careers service, says a degree doesn’t necessarily define your future role, because employers want graduates with the soft skills they learn in any degree.

“We connect students with employers and we are finding that there is still demand there, particularly in ICT, financial services, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, manufacturing and education,” says McLoughlin. “Today, a degree doesn’t necessarily define your future role, because employers want graduates with the soft skills they learn in any degree.”

Murphy says aviation, retail, hospitality and tourism have yet to open up but much of the rest of the economy has, to some extent, continued on during Covid-19. “A person looking for a job may see uncertainty, and companies looking at their talent pipeline may be holding back a few months.”

Kavanagh says the recent cyber attack on the HSE has highlighted the demand for data science and data analysis, and both the private and public sectors are responding.

The DCU team says companies have learned their lesson from the late 2000s, when they stopped recruiting in the face of the recession and, a few years later, had staff shortfalls and a lack of talent.

“The jobs marketplace is a little slower at the moment so it’s important for graduates to recognise that there will be setbacks, and it might take a little time, but you will bounce back,” says Daly.

At gradireland, Kavanagh says its annual salary survey has been delayed because of Covid-19, but graduates who put thought and work into finding a job can find opportunities.

“If you apply, you may be interviewed over video, so perhaps send a video of you talking,” he suggests. “Embrace the media you will be operating in. Try some online psychometric tests which can provide you with insights. When you look at job ads, look for the key words and skills and align them with your LinkedIn profile. Research the culture of the organisation you are going to apply for. Be bold and creative: if you say you are ‘passionate’ about something, you have to show how, perhaps by sending in a video clip or a project you pulled together.

“Show that you’re comfortable operating in this digital environment [which Covid plunged us into] and that, while you’ve missed out on opportunities to build relationships in person, you are trying to expand your network as best you can.”

Career experts advise that many jobs are never advertised, so there’s nothing wrong with being proactive. “Don’t just look at job websites,” Kavanagh advises. “Connect with companies on LinkedIn and, even if they’re not hiring now, they might be hiring down the line. Be creative and confident but not smarmy, in your approach.”

Have faith in your qualifications and your savvy, and there will be opportunities for graduates who can show their skills

With so much focus on business, science, technology and engineering, what hope do humanities graduates have?

“More and more, employers hire for skills rather than for a specific discipline,” says Daly. “In job ads, many employers state that they will hire graduates from any discipline. So for any graduate, it’s important to reflect on and recognise the skills they learned in their degree and what their career motivation is.”

Today’s graduate understands that their education doesn’t end after their degree (or postgraduate degree) and that they can expect to engage in further study or short “micro-credentials” through their career, as well as change careers and roles throughout their working life.

Kavanagh agrees. “Financiers need marketers. Engineers need chemical scientists. A degree here is viewed by employers as one of the best calling cards you have. Have faith in your qualifications and your savvy, and there will be opportunities for graduates who can show their skills.

“If I had one key piece of advice, it’s that companies are opting for experience over potential right now, so graduates should try to demonstrate any related transferable skills and what they have done and achieved over the past year, despite the limitations and restrictions.”