University: does it prepare you for the world of work?

I have seen a lot in the news recently about whether University adequately prepares graduates for the world of work. Having  graduated recently I have been speaking with a lot of friends from different University and course backgrounds about what they’re up to now. People I have spoken to tend to be grouped in the following themes; (sorry if I am blatantly missing anyone and no judgement passing here – feel free to comment).

Living at home; Whether they are employed or not  but a few of the people I know are not and are bored out of their brains. They are still searching for jobs…

Quitting a job for fear of getting stuck; After trying to get a job and perhaps accepting the first one they came across they have done it for a year, a few months and have left for fear they will work there forever. Some have moved on to better things, others are still trying to find their way onto their career ladder. They’re still searching for jobs…

Going abroad (will write more on this in a post later); A lot of people I know have cut their losses and have left the UK, whether that is with a view to make that permanent I’m not sure but most of them have gone for at least a year. This is brilliant because it opens your eyes to new cultures and languages and let’s face it the UK isn’t that interesting when compared with other places. However some people have done this with an attitude of “running away” but, when they do eventually come back to the UK, they will still have to search for a job…

The intern hopper People who are lucky enough to be able to hop between temporary work/ internships. I have been lucky enough to have my internship extended, no hopping necessary… yet. Because then I will have to search for jobs…

Living in London I envy a lot of people who can make this option work. For me living and working in London can seem like a whole other grown up world. Some people I know are thriving there which is awesome to see. Others are stressing and some have had to move back home. Whether they are happy in what they’re doing in London is another subject.

So I got to thinking about whether Universities are holding up their end of the bargain. I have over heard numerous conversations where people have mentioned taking on plucky young graduates who aren’t able to, for example send an email. Having suffered a blow to my confidence in written communication I know for a fact my grammar/general writing leaves a lot to be desired and I often find myself rewording emails that have to sound a little less direct.

Other people have mentioned that they have taken on grads who claim to be ace with numbers and when they come to do something numerical in the work place they can’t manage it! Numbers are not my strong suit, I get nervy around them and having been away from excel for a year it took some getting used to setting up calculations etc when I got my first office job (the one I am in now). I know of people who are perfectly capable accounting and finance grads who struggle with some of the things they have to work out in the work place when they have got a 2:1 and should be able to do it in their sleep.

So I have a few explanations and thoughts surrounding this based on my own experiences and from working with students and grads.

-> Perhaps it’s the learning style?   It’s all academic and it is hard trying to apply academia to the practical work place. 

University encourages you to take an independent attitude towards working, you are supposed to do your own research, reading, compile your ideas and get them down on paper in a coherent manner. When it comes to exams a lot of the people I have worked with have ended up cramming and then regurgitating knowledge to forget it a year later. If my A level Sociology teacher asked me to name drop Sociological theorists now, with a degree under my belt, I can’t promise I would manage anything special (embarrassment).

-> It all starts at school! People feel obliged to go to University 

Some people attend University for the wrong reasons, feel as though they stumble through their degree and this can leave them with a false sense of entitlement at the end. Equally some people go to uni to delay the inevitable job hunt/real life experience “A plan is better than no plan”.  In addition to this many schools pressure pupils into deciding what it is you want to be when you’re older. Some say this happens at too young an age – and people change their minds anyway! I started my A levels thinking I wanted to be a paramedic and finished them hoping to go into teaching (hence degree).

In some cases however too many schools don’t back that pressure up with suitable advice. Many schools are pressured into pushing as many pupils into University as possible and as a result pupils think there is no other option.  In addition to this some schools omit information or do not effectively pass on information about alternative routes into employment; be that apprenticeships, internships or placements. You can go on and use their opportunity finder to see opportunities for work in your area, it doesn’t cover everything but it is a definite starting point (if you’re between 16 and 24 years old)


-> Research and inquire; If I could go back to when I did my A levels I would have asked about alternative means of getting a job I can be passionate about. Don’t just blindly fill in a UCAS application. Look around and ask for support from your college or sixth form. Just because they say you should go doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your research and find something more placement or work based. A lot of people I know who went straight from GCSE or sixth form into work earn a lot more than me and are more established in their field. Equally don’t turn University down without a back up plan.

-> If you’re already at University make proactive use of careers service This sounds a bit mumsy of me but trust me they are a massive help. You might be able to have a stab at writing a good CV or think your charm will make you succeed at interview but you will only feel bad after the rejections if you don’t practice first. Go to practice assessment centres as well they successfully simulate working in a team and typical working day tasks.

If you don’t think your careers service is up to scratch raise it with your student representatives! A lot of students feel powerless to change things at their institutions but if you get enough people making a fuss and you give clear, professional, specific ideas on what you would like to see changed you’re more likely to make an impact.

Linked with this is; make sure you do work experience and volunteering! < nuff said

I don’t think many people consider that most University courses, most notably those provided by Russel Group universities aren’t actually designed to get you a job. They are not vocational or trade skill training. It is the proactive hunting, employer presentation attending, grafting, networking that an individual student does outside of their course that helps them land their first job.


Author: eemaa27

Blogging and reflecting to keep my writing skills in tune

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