Job opportunities for the class of 2009 have dipped even lower than the last major drop of the early ’80s. Career prospects are looking bleak for entry level candidates. Many graduates are now scrambling around trying to figure out what they can do to create some sort of future for themselves, while at the same time coping with blows to their confidence, financial security and independence. Many are applying to take Masters Courses to try and gain further qualifications in the hope of achieving a more competitive edge in 2010. Others are taking non graduate or temporary jobs.
A final group are looking at internships to try and build up some work experience. However, many are finding some employers are expecting these young people to work without pay. That’s right for nothing. I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand I can see how any opportunity is better than none. It is also a difficult time when highly experienced older people are being laid off, or being asked to reduce their hours and salaries or to take unpaid extended holidays. The skill sets of these young people are currently not great – but they do represent future investment, not just for companies, but for whole economies.
Who can benefit?
What bothers me is who is actually able to take advantage of these unpaid intern schemes? It seems that only graduates in financially advantageous situations can profit from this development, where they are able to support themselves for 6 months with no income at all. With student debt rising ( in the UK the average is reported to be £15,700, but according to the National Union of Students goes up to as much as £26k) already loans are going to take up to 12 years to pay back. Alternatively, more affluent parents are stepping in to financially support their graduate offspring in their efforts to gain any type of work experience. Other families are reaching deep into their pockets to pull out money they can’t really afford, thus jeopardising their own financial futures.
I recently coached a young adult, the son of a service employee, a talented quadri- lingual business graduate, who interviewed in a London based, international holding company for an intern position. The young man’s salary demand was a subsistence allowance, which would barely cover his living costs. However, the employer made it clear that the expectation was that the position would be unpaid. The graduate clearly tried to negotiate some sort of basic compensation, but was unwilling to risk bad relations and any future employment opportunities by pushing too hard. But he simply couldn’t afford to take the job.
I would have thought, and hoped, that showing you can negotiate for yourself, is an indication that you can indeed negotiate for the company. Unwilling to get deeper into debt and his family unable to help to support a period in a high cost city like London, he was obliged to walk away. I researched the company and I promise you, they are far from being in the red.
How far do they self advoate?
The dilemma that these kids experience is how hard do they self advocate? How far do they go and how much debt do they get into, just to have something on their CV? Having run graduate recruitment and entry level schemes in my career, I know that this level require training and supervision to be fully and correctly utilised to gain any valid experience. Without that, unless they are very lucky, they will end up doing routine, low level clerical jobs.
To me that is pure exploitation of the market for corporate gain. There have always been certain sectors where interns are expected to work just to have the experience: fashion and film are just two that spring to mind. But there was usually some sort of opportunity in the distance. With full economic recovery projected as being in 2014, how long will the class of 2009 have to wait?
It also means that less well off graduates, despite having equal qualifications will struggle to compete with graduates from more affluent families.