Your final year has begun, but you may already be thinking ahead to what you want to be doing after you graduate.
You may have noticed that the graduate jobs market looks to be in a healthy state at the moment, so it’s natural to want to take full advantage of the greater volume of opportunities available.
But there are other options, and many of them are not mutually exclusive choices; some of them you can combine in such a way that will get your career off to the best possible start.
The good news is that the employment rate of new graduates in recent years has been rising steadily. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) tracks where graduates have gone every year, and is currently compiling figures for the class of 2016. Yet of those who graduated in 2015, 62 per cent were in employment nine months later, with 85 per cent of them working in Ireland. Around one in 10 was working overseas, with just 6 per cent still looking for work.
The chances are the 2016 figures will show another strong increase in employment levels. According to the GradIreland salary survey 2017, 49 per cent of graduate recruiters indicated that they were increasing their graduate intake.
It also looks like the increase is across the board in terms of disciplines.
Josephine Walsh, head of the career development centre at NUIG, notes that its BA graduates are doing better, "reflecting the growing trend for graduate employers in many sectors to seek good graduates from many disciplines rather than from a specific discipline, and also an increasing interest in humanities graduates due to their problem-solving, critical-thinking and creativity skills".
There are also more opportunities in the regions.
Maria Nugent, acting careers officer at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), says 74 per cent of its 2016 graduates found jobs in Cork, with another 20 per cent working elsewhere in the country.
To this end your college website may be a good place to find local jobs or traineeships advertised. Nugent says that, following an internal promotion campaign to students, there has been a big rise in the numbers of employers posting jobs on the careers page of the college’s website, from around six or seven per week a year ago to around 20 this year, all year round.
Graduate trainee schemes
These schemes, which usually last one to two years, used to be the preserve of banks, insurance companies and financial institutions, but they have become increasingly popular across all sectors, including technology, pharmaceuticals, IT and retailing.
Registering with all the main employment agencies may also help alert you to graduate schemes that perhaps are not so well advertised.
Getting a place on a Big Four graduate trainee scheme is sure to bring all kinds of perks and opportunities, but don't overlook SMEs. Enterprise Ireland has a website called Gradhub.ie, which is specifically aimed at helping to steer graduates to working with a smaller firm.
There are now more opportunities in the public sector too. The Public Appointments Service has restarted programmes that did not run for a number of years, and publishes information regularly on graduate opportunities on Gradpublicjobs.ie.
Graduate employers are increasingly using internships as part of their recruitment process. According to GradIreland, 76 per cent of graduate recruiters surveyed in 2017 offered work experience or internships to third-level students with the aim of building their talent pipeline and also their employer brand with targeted students, says Caroline Kennedy of the National College of Ireland.
“Increasingly graduates entering the job market have undertaken an internship that completed some sort of relevant work experience, and are entering their final year job-ready, with a clearer idea of what they are looking for career-wise and potentially with a graduate job offer in hand.”
The NCI is one of a growing number of institutions offering “professional apprenticeships”, which are programmes whereby graduates gain employment in a specific sector but work towards a particular industry qualification. Last year it teamed up with industry body FSI (Financial Services Ireland) to run an international financial services apprenticeship aimed at graduates of all disciplines. The 50 successful graduates secured full-time, two-year contracts within the financial services sector together with a fully-funded Higher Diploma in Financial Services Analytics.
The expected fall in the numbers seeking to go straight to full-time postgraduate study this year because of the greater volume of graduate job opportunities is said to be making competition among colleges more competitive.
But Walsh says postgraduate study will still give a graduate a “competitive edge because of the opportunity to build expertise and knowledge in a chosen career area”.
Nugent at CIT points to the high proportion of Level 8 graduates of the college – 70-odd per cent – who went on to do further study in 2016, with nearly half of them doing so at CIT, with most of the rest going to UCC.
You have the basic choice of doing a taught masters course or a research-based masters, while there are also professional masters courses that are focused on professional practice, such as special needs education.
You might assume that conversion courses are aimed at those who have already left college and embarked on a particular career only to find it isn’t for them or because the opportunities to progress are very limited, but many final-year students may have already decided that they have ultimately chosen the wrong programme.
The best known are the ICT Skills Conversion courses, enabling those in employment to undertake fully-funded postgraduate programmes in computing, web technologies, data analytics, multimedia, fin-tech, food science, and computer animation.
There are over 6,400 free Springboard and ICT Skills Conversion places available for those looking to upskill or reskill in the biopharma/medtech and ICT sectors, and 64 of these programmes are available to those in employment who want to upskill in a skills shortage area.
According to Kennedy, the programme is enabling many graduates currently in employment to study part-time.
To spend a period of time living and working abroad will undoubtedly be on many a final-year student’s bucket list. Doing so straight after college is probably one of the most optimal times do to so rather than holding off until later, but many who had long-planned to see the world straight after college may be thinking again amid the greater volume of graduate opportunities available at the moment.
Kennedy suggests the alternative strategy of “six months experience in a relevant temporary or contract role before travelling and then, whilst they are away, they can be working to add to this experience”.
“When they return in 12 or 18 months they then have relevant skills and international experience that they can offer an employer rather than a degree from 18 months ago and non-relevant work experience. Again a buoyant job market makes this possible.”
However, there is another way of looking at the employment versus travel dilemma.
“Yes, the job market is better, especially in Dublin, but Irish graduates are competing against other Europeans so travel and work abroad experience is still really important to Irish employers,” said Walsh.
“When participants come back from the one-year graduate USA visa, for example, they are at an advantage compared to those who spent their first year out of college in Ireland. The Americans are renowned for their hard work ethic in industries like marketing, law, engineering, tech and finance, and that rubs off on the Irish who intern out there. They get a different perspective on how things are done, and can bring back that knowledge to their perspective Irish employers.”
Of course there’s always the option of seeking out a local employer who offers opportunities to work overseas later on in your career, such as Jameson or First Derivatives, or to apply for the Graduates 4 International Growth, a programme run by Enterprise Ireland that supports firms in employing graduate researchers to explore potential markets overseas.
Choosing an export-oriented firm is certainly a popular choice now for final-year students in CIT, particularly among those who are keen to travel but still want to return to live and work in Cork with the same employer, such as Ornua (makers of Kerrygold), according to Nugent, particularly if they are not keen on working in Dublin.
But as students become increasingly global in their outlook, you need not confine your job searches to Ireland.
“We are educating our students to be global citizens and to compete with other nationalities so there is no reason why graduates shouldn’t apply for graduate positions outside of Ireland,” said Walsh.
But if you’re in the “now-or-never” camp, USIT has a number of graduate visa schemes and programmes that can enable you to take the first steps.
The first is the aforementioned one-year USA graduate visa, which allows you to go and intern in the USA without having arranged any internship before you travel. However, you must find one within 90 days of arriving in the country. You can work for more than one employer and in any of the 50 US states in any industry.
It’s a popular visa that is also open to current students as well as recent graduates and post-grads, so you’ll need to be quick to be sure of getting one for 2018.
There are also the working holiday visas for Australia and New Zealand, which are said to be far more straightforward to obtain than for the USA. Many year-long visas can be approved and issued within two days of application.
One of the newest programmes is Canada Work and Lodge, designed for the two-year Canada working visa. It links you up with hotel jobs in Canada, where your housing is covered by the employer for the duration of the contract. "At the moment we're hiring for ski resort jobs in places like Whistler, Banff and Edmonton for this winter," said Darina Carr of USIT.
"The Canada Work and Lodge programme is a great option for grads because they can start their two-year adventure in Canada knowing they have a service job lined up for a few months with no rent to pay and then after their contract is up they still have loads of time left on their visa to work in the bigger cities like Vancouver and Toronto. "
“For anyone who is unsure what they want to do, travelling is a wonderful learning experience, and presents many opportunities to enhance a graduate’s employability, said Walsh. “Whether the choice is to volunteer or simply to enjoy travelling, it could actually result in better job prospects when they come home due to the experiences, skills and languages developed.”
If you need inspiration there’s Camp USA, which is open to anyone aged 18-30. You work in a US summer camp for two months and get 30 days to travel at the end of your contract. This programme is for people who like working with kids and have special skills in sports, art, drama,water sports, photography or camping.
If you’re of a more entrepreneurial bent the support available for graduates who want to set themselves up in self-employment straight out of college may be all the encouragement you need.
These include such initiatives as DIT's Hothouse, TCD and UCD's Innovation Alliance, DCU's Ryan Academy and the Accelerating Campus Entrepreneurship (ACE) scheme that is run at NUI Galway, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, Cork Institute of Technology and Dundalk Institute of Technology.