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Prospects are getting brighter for Ireland’s graduates

Number being hired by companies on graduate programmes doubled last year

It has been tough going for graduates lately, but this year’s GradIreland awards at the Mansion House pointed to a far more hospitable recruitment environment ahead.

The consensus seems to be that even when recruitment activity was at its most sluggish, the competition for the best graduates remained brisk enough and throughout the downturn companies continued to work on developing enticing graduate programmes. Now that graduate hires are on the up, these programmes are coming into their own.

“Last year, the average number of graduates being hired on graduate programmes in Ireland doubled from the previous year,” says gradireland.com publisher Mark Mitchell. “In 2015, this is expected to grow again, by another 21 per cent. The four biggest areas of growth in 2015 will be in retail and sales; IT; accountancy and financial management. And the banking sector is coming back into graduate recruitment.”

This year marked the largest ever GradIreland Graduate Recruitment Awards, with almost 600 of Ireland’s graduate recruiters and course providers in attendance as well as representatives from the two partner agencies, the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS) and the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The awards featured the results of a large annual student/graduate survey: this year’s 7,385-strong cohort reported their attitudes to graduate careers and employers in Ireland. The results of the survey revealed the trends underlying graduate sentiment right now. Broadly speaking, 40 per cent of graduates are interested in a “technical” career (IT, engineering, science), while the rest are interested in a “business” career, covering everything from accounting to the public sector. Teaching remains extremely popular.

Employability skills

In addition to academic qualifications, employers are looking for “work-ready” graduates where possible, says Mitchell.

The key “employability skills” that employers are looking for are: strong communication skills (written and verbal; project management and social); strong intrinsic IT skills (for every job in every sector, not just IT roles – you must be a digital native); and foreign language fluency is a huge benefit in almost every scenario for the main graduate recruiters,” he says.

These skill sets are not always easy to find. Half of graduate employers anticipate challenges in filling their graduate recruitment quotas in 2015. The race is on for the best graduate talent across all sectors.

“The IT skills shortage is often highlighted, but many companies are anticipating difficulties finding graduates with the right skills or qualifications for their programmes,” says Mitchell.

“Therefore, graduates who can demonstrate employability skills and a keen awareness of the business needs and recruitment processes of the organisation they would like to work for can give themselves a real edge.”

There’s tension on both sides. Graduates want to work for the best companies, companies want the best graduates – it’s not as simple as supply and demand one way or the other. On the company side, offering a measurably advantageous graduate programme is vital.

The companies that took home awards on April 30th, such as KPMG, Google, Accenture and PwC, all have two important strengths in common; they are good at communicating with “millennials”, the current generation of graduates, and they have well-structured training and development programmes.

“There is huge competition for graduate talent, but many companies tend to suffer from ‘institutional arrogance’,” says Mitchell.

Career paths

“They forget that young people may not actually know about the broad range of roles that they have and what are the career paths available. So it is crucial organisations present a strong ‘employer brand’ which explains the career paths they offer, their corporate culture and clearly differentiate themselves from the competition.

“Additionally, millennials want and expect continuous development in their career, so the training element of the best graduate programmes is a big attraction when competing for graduates.”

A welcome development at this year’s GradIreland event was the return of the Public Appointments Service, which took home the prize for the best recruitment website (grad publicjobs.ie/gradpublicjobs/).

A graduate competition was held last year resulting in 230 graduates appointments in a range of roles including economists, auditors and general civil service posts.

“A graduate programme has been developed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in conjunction with other government departments that will create a cadre of high-achieving civil servants with a range of experience who are equipped with skill sets to enable them to make a substantial ongoing contribution to delivering services for the Government and the people,” says Niall Leavy of the Public Appointments Service.

KPMG was the overall winner this year, chosen by graduates as the best graduate recruiter in the market. One of Ireland’s largest graduate employers, it hires about 270 graduates every year across audit, tax, advisory and consulting.

“We’re always open to hearing from graduates with strong technical ability and a flair for business,” says KPMG’s Paul Vance. “We are looking for graduates from business, IT, engineering, maths, physics, law, arts or science.

“Obviously we are keen to understand if graduates have a genuine interest in the business world and once we establish this, then we look for skills and abilities such as teamwork, communication, problem- solving, attention to detail and more.”

Perks

Training and support are critical: more obvious perks help too. German supermarket chain Aldi, shortlisted for graduate employer of the year in the retail category, islooking for 25 graduates to join a structured graduate training programme for area managers.

“We are looking for outstanding candidates, born leaders possessing the drive and ambition to succeed in the demanding and fast-paced grocery retail environment,” says Niall O’Connor, managing director of the Aldi Mitchelstown region.

It runs an induction and training programme covering product knowledge, store operations, financial administration, logistics and property management.

“The programme provides graduates with a unique opportunity to run their own multimillion-euro business within a year, the potential to work abroad or to progress to a director position within five years. It also provides a market-leading rewards package, including a starting salary of €61,000 rising to €93,750 over four years plus a fully-expensed Audi A4.”

Things must be looking up.