The class of 2020 could be forgiven for thinking they have been handed a raw deal. They graduated – virtually, most likely – into a markedly changed labour market, dictated by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic rather than any of the usual market forces.
But are things as bad as they seem when it comes to graduates’ career prospects and is the employment landscape irrevocably changed? Perhaps not. Many businesses say they are continuing to hire college-leavers for their bespoke graduate programmes that offer unique training and development opportunities.
Sorcha Mulcahy, deputy director of the University College Dublin (UCD) Careers Network, says there is anxiety among students and recent graduates about the impact of the pandemic on their career prospects.
“Some graduates who had jobs secured have had start dates pushed back and others have had to abandon plans to work or travel abroad. Some graduates are still seeking employment and are finding the job search process challenging,” she says. The UCD careers service has seen a significant upsurge in demand from graduates during the pandemic, particularly for one-to-one coaching.
“Supporting UCD graduates during this challenging time is a key priority for us. We have successfully moved all of our services online, so we are able to work with graduates wherever they are based,” says Mulcahy.
“Undeniably” some sectors have been hit hard – for example, arts and culture, aviation, hospitality and retail – and Mulcahy says this is challenging for graduates seeking to work in those areas.
“However, in general, we are seeing a lot of cautious positivity in the wider graduate employment market. The good news is that lots of organisations are still hiring graduates and the pandemic has presented increased opportunities in some areas, for example, life sciences and healthcare,” she says.
While some organisations appear to be hiring lower numbers of graduates than previous years, Mulcahy says several have indicated an intention to increase recruitment in the new year once vaccines are rolled out and life begins to return to normal. “Many employers spoke of prioritising graduate recruitment in particular as they want to maintain the talent pipeline within their organisation,” she adds.
One programme open for business is the Jameson international graduate programme, one of the longest-running in Ireland. Successful graduates will have the opportunity to work as Jameson brand ambassadors, while availing of a world-class training and development programme with extensive career progression opportunities and the chance to work in one of 35 international markets.
Sinéad D'Arcy, head of the programme, says that parent company Irish Distillers has a history of supporting and nurturing young talent.
"The Jameson international graduate programme has been successfully recruiting and training graduates for almost 30 years, many of whom have remained within the wider network and some have gone on to hold leadership positions within Irish Distillers domestically and Pernod Ricard globally," she says.
Applications are now open for this programme, which applies a 70/20/10 approach to graduate development: 70 per cent on-the-job learning; 20 per cent learning through feedback and reflection; and 10 per cent formal learning.
“We look for creative, innovative self-starters with an entrepreneurial mindset,” says D’Arcy. “We want graduates who are committed to getting the job done but who don’t take themselves too seriously.”
She says the programme is suitable for graduates of all disciplines: “A marketing or business background is not essential. Today, brand ambassadors come from a variety of backgrounds – from law, arts and psychology to business and marketing.”
For those interested in retail, the Lidl graduate management development programme is an award-winning, tailored and accredited 18-month development programme offered to graduates in a range of streams including human resources, marketing, supply chain, construction and sales organisation.
“The programme itself consists of different modules, including operational training, which give graduates a full understanding of our business through on-the-job training and a blended learning approach,” says Scott Fay of Lidl’s talent acquisitions team.
Lidl’s graduate management development programme has expanded for 2021 with 16 spaces and 13 streams available compared to eight streams last year. Fay says the programme is seeking graduates that attained or are expecting an upper second-class honours (2.1) level eight degree as a minimum requirement.
Graduates can expect to learn, be challenged and get hands-on experience on projects that help expand and develop their problem-solving and business management skills, he adds.
“There are endless possibilities within Lidl for success so we are looking for graduates that are hard-working and willing to learn and will be successful in Lidl. Because of the way Lidl’s graduate management degree programme is structured, graduates get a full 360 degree of the business that other people possibly don’t get coming into the business. That’s not something you can get everywhere,” he says.
According to Fay, the programme offers “significant” opportunities for progression, as well as the chance to work further afield.
“Some of our past graduates are now project managers, area managers, heads of department, working in Lidl US or Germany. It’s just a matter of embracing the graduate journey and using the experience and knowledge they gain as a stepping stone in their career in Lidl.”
Graduates who are seeking employment should use this time to think about how they can develop new skills or to enhance existing skills, Mulcahy says. Many third-level institutions are offering free online learning programmes, as are online learning platforms such as Coursera, FutureLearn and LinkedIn Learning.
“Several employers have spoken of how impressed they have been at interviews by graduates who have been proactive in developing themselves during this difficult time and who have shown resilience and positivity in the face of challenge,” she says.
Mulcahy says it is crucial that graduates who are feeling anxious about their career options or need some help with their job search contact their university’s career service.
“University careers services are constantly monitoring the graduate employment market and are in contact with national and international employers on a daily basis. They can provide reliable, up-to-date advice to graduates on how to navigate the employment market effectively.”