Mostly these days, we are preoccupied with the direct consequences and the collateral damage the pandemic has caused. For one thing we are in midst of a severely disrupted economy and a disturbed workforce, but we must not forget that there are other phenomena that have emerged long before the pandemic. We need to keep track of them, and turn them around for the better.
So, what’s up with the college graduates of this generation?
When I was still in high school, there was already an emerging trend toward higher education. Manual labour and clerk jobs were chronically underpaid, strenuous and not very highly regarded.
And so the path was set straight to University for someone who wanted a bit more out of a career, and had the means and capacity to do so.
Even then, the emerging trends were disapproved of by experts who saw the under-appreciation of apprenticeships backfire quickly, not only because it would create labour shortage in those sectors, but also because it would inevitably dilute the value and quality of university education.
And so it did. In a near lockstep, the labour market responded with higher requirements due to the flood of new graduates and applicants. Means of selection had to be adapted, and thus, employers now required the applicants to have prior work experience. The education facilities reacted quickly and incorporated internships as part of their programs, to get their graduates into the workforce swiftly.
Now that this is not enough anymore. Companies at this point ask for differentiating factors so cluttered with requirements that the person a company is looking for literally does not exist.
- “They never found that 20 year old with a Ph.D. and 40 year work experience, willing to work for minimum wage”
- “must be a unicorn, glowing in the dark and barfing rainbows, all while performing CEO work for entry-level pay.”
Not to mock the companies here. It is to their detriment as well. A harsh selection process actually accounts for high costs and a lot of vacant positions.
What is extremely concerning, however, is the pace in which these trends were synchronising, and the effects it already has produced and will produce in the future.
Now that we have produced a highly trained generation of workforce, how are they navigating the job market? With the requirements for entry-level jobs these days one might wonder what the data actually looks like.
In 2019, 80,3% of all recent university graduates in Europe, aged 20–34 were employed. This leaves a whopping 19,7% of graduates unemployed. The U.S. reports an unemployment rate of 53% in recent college graduates.
Out of the U.S. graduate employed percentile, 43% are reportedly underemployed, meaning they work in a job they are overeducated for. In Germany, this figure lies at 21% as of 2018.
What are the New “Useless Majors”
“Philosophy graduates will be the future taxi drivers” — this was a running gag already when I was in elementary school. Sadly, there are a great number of study courses that will have very few career choices. But the times of philosophy graduates being the only taxi drivers are long gone. The highest increase in enrolments are in business, engineering, social sciences and humanities, causing profusion and high competition for open positions, and the mentioned accelerating demands.
What this development also has produced are wonky CV’s. Due to the extreme entry requirements, graduates are frequently forced to work in positions that are not related to their majors, or they are overeducated (and underpaid) for. Meaning way less straightforward career paths for these graduates than they were promised when they enrolled to the program. Thus, getting into the field anticipated requires a lot more effort than to simply graduate these days.
Where are we heading?
One of the biggest challenges of this development is the speed in which the conditions shift around. The pace of the market has been steadily accelerating, especially with technological development on the forefront. The capacity and institutions in which education is obtained, has though remained very much the same. Thus, there is little to no development that is of benefit for students at this point.
It has become a procedural stalemate, since there are hardly any clear-cut paths to navigate this right, but there are for sure things that can be done.
There is definitely a need for reform with regard to education and vocational training, and the trends thereof. As it is now is a de facto nightmare for both, graduates and employers, since the solutions to the issue in emergence hardly lies within the level of education, but rather in a restructuring of employment areas.
Evidently, counteracting these trends by increasing minimum wages, and thus, self-sufficiency of vocations that do not require university degrees, is self-explanatory at this point.
When I graduated and had no clue what I wanted to do, I was told having a business degree would be a safe play because there would always be well-paid jobs, especially when the degree was broad enough to basically fill any position from accounting over HR to consulting.
I can wholeheartedly and resolutely say that this is a bald-faced lie.
The alternative: statistically, it is a much better approach to focus your energy and commitment on a single career path, and if required, to switch to close alternatives.
This of course requires to know what you want out of your career from an early age, which directs the responsibility to inform students about actual feasible career paths back to the educational facilities.
Moreover, it is beneficial to engage in networking, extracurricular activities and — if you are very serious about your career pursuit — looking for a mentor.
Internships are still a good way to secure a position after graduation. Thus, the right internship should be selected carefully for this endeavour. Either way, “waiting and see what happens” after graduation is not a smart move. There will be no one there to catch you…