Positive prospects for graduates

Students are well-positioned as the growing economy increases employment demand for graduates

It just keeps getting better. For the past three years, The Irish Times graduate recruitment supplement has heralded the best job opportunities for college graduates since the heady days of the Celtic tiger. And guess what? This year, the jobs market is even stronger than last year.

General trends

"We are seeing changes in how companies hire," says Orla Bannon, director of careers at Trinity College Dublin. "Employers are increasingly opening their doors to graduates of all disciplines. In finance and management consulting, they are interested in arts and social science graduates for the transferable skills they have. They are looking to the type of roles they will need filled in the future and this means they need a mix of skill sets from across the board."

This is great news for engineering or science graduates who, in years gone by, may have assumed they would work in engineering- or science-specific roles; it’s also good for arts and social science graduates who might otherwise have to hear more outdated clichés about their career in the fast-food industry (although this industry, it should be noted, also seeks to attract graduates for defined training programmes).

"Unemployment is really low and a lot of new jobs are being created," says Gerard Brady, senior economist at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC). "In 2010, we saw about 13 per cent of people change job within a year; now it is around 20 per cent. Firms are competing for the best graduates and the opportunities are the best they've been since 2006/07. They are crying out for skilled engineering and science graduates, but soft skills are rising in importance: they want people who can show communication and leadership skills."


The Higher Education Authority's 2016 survey, What do Graduates do: The Class of 2016, reported that 30 per cent of honours bachelor degree graduates were working in the non-market services sector (which includes, for example, public and civil service, education and research, health, trade unions and employer associations, the cultural sector and domestic services), followed by 26 per cent who are working in business, finance or insurance services.

Where the jobs are:

Sales and marketing: "Marketing is often one of the first jobs cut in a recession, so when there is high demand here it is usually a good economic indicator," says Susan Keogh, managing director of Eden Recruitment. "The growth in this sector suggests that companies are investing in their future."

Call centre and multi-lingual divisions: "These are always busy and perhaps a recession-proof area," says Keogh. "There is a massive shortage of multi-lingual candidates across a range of companies which offer excellent terms and benefits. We are currently attracting a lot of inward talent from Europe, especially German speakers. There is also a growth in the Indian market with a requirement for employees who can speak Punjabi, and the need for Arabic speakers is on the rise too. If candidates have a degree that includes a second language, we have multiple roles on offer in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway and, depending on what they are looking to do, we can offer them flexible contracts."

IT and technology: Eden is one of many recruitment firms highlighting a need for more candidates in the IT and technology industries – perhaps unsurprising given the huge number of tech firms – including Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google and Facebook – with bases in Ireland. "There are a lot of front-end developer roles out there and cyber security is huge, especially since the EU brought in the GDPR regulations," says Keogh.

Bannon says these firms are expanding in Ireland at the same time as both indigenous and multinational companies set up IT and tech operations. “Data analysts and computer software engineers are highly sought, as are people with strong ICT skills.”

Banking and finance: "We have a large number of blue-chip organisations with very attractive packages who are hugely interested in any graduate with a business degree," says Keogh. "They are looking for the commercial acumen that comes with a business degree and candidates here will have excellent opportunities for travel. Previously, many firms were looking for candidates with at least one year of experience but now we are seeing them advertise for entry-level graduates who they can train up."

Construction, engineering and architecture: "We don't just need builders," says Brady. "We also need engineers, architects and quantity surveyors. The Government's Project 2040 will create more sectors for young people in this area. It should be pointed out that this sector is cyclical and that it has gone down before, although there will always be opportunities for those prepared to travel and work abroad."

Pharma and medical technology: Pharmaceuticals and medical device firms are big employers in Ireland and they need graduates from all disciplines.

The medium to long-term outlook

The jobs market might be at a peak now, but aren’t all peaks followed by troughs? “It’s hard to predict the medium- to long-term outlook, and the only certainty is that change will happen,” says Brady. “The type of jobs that some graduates are now going into – data analytics being perhaps the best example – didn’t exist to any degree a decade ago, but are now one of the most important sectors for foreign direct investment.”

There are clear and obvious threats to Irish graduates, with the hit from a no-deal Brexit likely to impact on sectors with a large exposure to the UK market, particularly the agri-food industry. US president Donald Trump’s propensity away from free trade and towards protectionism is another threat.

“We don’t know how it will turn out,” says Brady. “Graduates will need to retrain and reskill, and we will likely see a long-term shift from manufacturing – the medical tech and pharma industries are strong here – towards a growth in the service sector. Being adaptable will put the class of 2018 in a stronger position.”

Not sure of what job or role is right for you? Trinity College, as well as other college careers services, offer a range of online resources and self-assessment tools for graduates (tcd.ie/careers). Eden Recruitment, as well as other recruitment firms, will provide potential candidates with tools which can help them find their place in the world of work; they use StrengthsFinder, an online psychometric test tool which costs $20 for a basic test.

What sectors remain challenging?

There are some sectors that remain very competitive, particularly in creative industries. While music and drama have never been acclaimed for their steady employment opportunities, and word association brings “struggling” to mind with every mention of “artist”, there are other careers that can be tough to break into.

Journalism is one of these, but while not every aspiring writer is going to work for a national newspaper, there is still a need for commercial writers across a range of industries. A little like law, however, the most tenacious young journalists who doggedly pursue stories will be noticed: young bloods like Jack Power in The Irish Times and Ellen Coyne in The Times Ireland edition got noticed and hired because they were finding good stories.

The other side of the journalism coin, public relations, has a lot more opportunities but graduates are often expected to do internships to get their foot in the door.

An unscientific Twitter survey carried out by this journalist suggests that not only are the creative arts harder to break into , so is arts administration, with opportunities thin on the ground for creative and imaginative people who want to be involved in theatre, dance, visual arts or filmmaking. Again, unpaid internships are all too heavily relied in, perhaps because the arts is poorly funded. Writing in this newspaper in August, Patrick Freyne highlighted how "the arts in Ireland are built on top of unpaid labour".

“Creative arts can be harder to break into in a small country like Ireland,” says Orla Bannon of TCD. “There will always be limited opportunities in some areas, but what is notable here is the move towards self-employment and freelance employment, which can provide opportunities for graduates to work on their own inventive and creative projects. Part of this involves standing out from the crowd, and if you come up against a barrier, it can be a chance to consider how it might allow you to develop your skills and networks more.”

Arts and humanities graduates may have an edge here. “Arts and humanities graduates are trained to deal with ambiguity and complexity, and to make connections between different pieces of information. Employers – and clients – increasingly value that in the workplace and there is a trend in companies hiring creatives as they develop new business areas.”