Graduates who finished their Leaving Cert four or five years ago had reason to be glum. Ireland was in the throes of a recession and there were far more job applicants than available jobs. Youth unemployment was creeping up towards 30 per cent. Young people could only look on in desperation and hope that the economy would improve.
Fast forward to 2017. Now, we’re in the midst of a catastrophic housing crisis and there’s no doubt that the “recovery”, such as it is, has been heavily focused on Dublin and other large cities; in many regions, graduates will be very lucky to get a job close to the area where they grew up.
Mark Mitchell of gradireland says that their recent survey of over 7,000 students and graduates points identified concerns about the cost of living and the housing crisis, while 61 per cent said that they were worried about their future career. "While prospects are good, there is still a level of justifiable concern among the current crop of graduates, possibly still all-too-aware of the fragility of the economy."
And yet, says Mitchell, the employment situation is as positive as it has been since before the crash, with graduate recruitment on the rise and employment rates high, particularly in engineering, IT, finance, languages and construction. There has been an 18 per cent increase in the size of graduate intakes over the last 12 months.
Mariano Mamertino is Emea economist for recruitment firm Indeed. "A university degree still pays a considerable premium, especially in Ireland," he says. "The OECD reports that tertiary graduates earned, on average, 63 per cent more than people with upper-secondary and post-secondary (non-tertiary) education, while the corresponding OECD average was 55 per cent. Figures from Eurostat show that youth unemployment is among the lowest in the EU, standing at 12.3 per cent in July 2017. This suggests that the labour market for young people fresh out of school is stronger than in most other EU countries."
Mike McDonagh, director of Hays recruitment Ireland, says that the overall jobs market is continuing to improve. “There are certain areas – particular law, medicine and areas of business such as accountancy – where graduates have good opportunities. Pharmaceuticals and life sciences are also performing strongly and, indeed, Ireland has possibly the best jobs market in the world for these areas.”
There are other growth areas, particularly data analytics, marketing and communications, design, healthcare, education and training, chef and human resources that are also on the rise, says Mamertino, and these are all jobs where human interaction is important (see panel).
Average starting salaries are €28,554 per year, according to gradireland.com’s analysis. “So while the largest amount of jobs are in financial services, banking, insurance and IT, they are not necessarily the best-paid roles, at least in terms of original starting salary. The highest salaries are for graduate roles in law and retail management programmes but there are fewer of these positions available, so the competition for places is intense.”
But who is fit for what job? “Employers want people who can demonstrate competencies outside of the academic realm and this means that they are looking for people with the “soft skills” such as relationship building, communication and negotiation,” says McDonagh. “So, while technical skills may be paramount in some jobs, the employer also needs people who can interpret the technology, sell it and make human connections.”
Graduates don’t have to make an immediate decision about what to do within their first year out of college, says McDonagh, and he advises them to think about what they like doing, whether they like routine, whether they enjoy dynamic environments and if they prefer numbers or words. College career services and good recruiters can help final year college students and recent graduates to explore this.
“Think about the competencies you have developed over the course of your degree,” he advises. “A law graduate, for instance, will have writing and debating skills, and they’re also trying to sell one party or another on a point of law, so they have the ability to construct a plan and take a point forward. If they’re good at debating, they might work well in sales. If they are good at writing and developing proposals, they could get a job writing bids for construction companies.”
The age of the unpaid internship appears to be coming to an end and the majority of firms no longer expect recent graduates to do six months of unpaid work, especially if they want to recruit the most talented staff. “There are some organisations which may look to engage graduates in four to six week assignments and that experience can be great. But frankly, if there is a choice between an unpaid job or work in a pub or hotel, it’s worth noting that there are many benefits to the pub or hotel job, because you will pick up many skills while there and these are skills that any future employer will value.”
When will the robots steal my job?
Graduates have heard the refrain: we don’t know what jobs technology will make obsolete in 10 years time and we don’t know what new jobs will take their place. The Brexit vote and Trump’s election have been blamed on declining job opportunities, but many of the jobs lost by these voters have been taken not by immigrants, but by robots.
Research conducted by Indeed.ie, however, can give us a clue. In a survey based on six months of UK jobseeker activity, the recruitment firm found that “millennials” (around 20-37 years old) are 67 per cent less likely to choose a career at higher risk of automation than older generations, and their career choice gives them the best chance of adapting as technology transforms the world of work.
“Automation in the workplace is understandably a sensitive subject for many people,” says Mariano Mamertino, chief economist for recruitment firm Indeed. “Technology continues to reshape not just the way we work but also the number and type of jobs that are available. Technological progress is going to impact on different occupations at different times and it’s impossible to know exactly which jobs are “safe” – but everyone can prepare for the future by building up transferable, non-routine skills that can be applied across a wide array of occupations.”
Starting salaries, 2017. Source: gradireland.com
Job Area – Median Salary 2017 – Percentage of jobs 2017
Retail and sales – €30,998 – 3.3 per cent
Law, legal services and patents – €30,797 – 2.6 per cent
Science, medical devices, pharmaceutical, R&D – €29,719 – 4.2 per cent
Management consulting – €29,669 – 10.4 per cent
Logistics and transport – €29,659 – 2.0 per cent
Public sector or voluntary sector – €29,569 – 3.5 per cent
Construction, built environment and property – €29,460 – 1.4 per cent
Technology, software, online services – €29,304 – 18.1 per cent
Recruitment & HR – €28,629 – 4.1 per cent
Food & drink industry, leisure and tourism – €27,549 – 2 per cent
Engineering (all types) – €27,289 – 9.4 per cent
Digital media, marketing – €25,846 – 7.8 per cent
Accountancy and financial management – €24,554 – 24.4 per cent
Banking, investment banking, financial services – €23,639 – 7 per cent