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Is a Degree Enough for Graduate Employment?

The topic of discussion for this article will focus on university graduate employment, the increasing challenges faced by the youth to find jobs and the responsibilities of all stakeholders to support the youth with future work. The underlying assumptions of waiting for a young person to graduate from university to find their career purpose needs to be updated, and the failing employment system preparing youth for work globally puts stakeholders and economies at a disadvantage.

University graduate employment is complex, and research identifies employability to include individuals who find work that allows them to use the gained university skills and degree knowledge on the job. However, on the flip side is the term underemployment which raises alarming concerns that rising numbers of university graduates are employed doing jobs unrelated to their degree focus and underutilizing the skills gained at university. In addition, and equally worrisome, are the rising number of youth unable to find any work at all making them unemployable and weighing heavy on social systems to support them through their experiences of unemployment (Hossain et al., 2019; Yang, 2019; González-Romá et al., 2016; Teng et al., 2019). Furthermore, as the topic of employment is complex, university graduates should be made aware of the challenges they may face after graduation while gaining more context of their future employment situations.

A research study comparing Chinese and Malaysian university graduate employment identified the rising challenges the youth face, which remain impacted by the ever-evolving and disruptive technologies that continue to change how youth will work (Teng et al., 2019). The study strongly suggested that globally, university graduates require more than academic achievements (Teng et al., 2019). However, in my experiences as an adjunct lecturer and a career practitioner, high-school graduates are made to believe that their grades and the university brand will make them employable. In addition, young people tend to gain work experience to get a university acceptance. However, factors such as; social mobility, varying work skills, rising graduate student numbers and meeting unprecedented employer demands increase the difficulties university graduates face for employment (Hossain et al., 2019; Soon et al., 2019, Teng et al., 2019). Therefore, studies such as the Chinese and Malaysian employment comparison can inform higher education professionals and university students about the rising and oncoming employment challenges.

Reflections of rising employment issues for the youth are both alarming and deeply concerning. The research and my practitioner experiences unpeel the realization that university graduates are set up to fail at employment. If my assertion may seem dramatic, it was intended to be. The unspoken and unlearned expectations university graduates have for them make their career journey both bumpy and unrealistic. For example, graduates are expected to meet the employer's demands, but the assumption is that the student was given ample preparation and career development throughout their university experience. However, the research discloses that work preparedness as a university graduate is debatable. Therefore, if the research indicates the current and unforeseeable future, the employment opportunities for graduates are worrisome. Moreover, I urge university students to jump into the driver's seat of their employment journey and develop their understanding of work and employability requirements. University graduates require employable factors such as; making professional development choices with intention, increasing social circles and mobility, gaining personal adaptability through the unemployable journey, and gaining clarity of their aspired career identity (Hossain et al., 2019; Teng et al., 2019). University students must be made aware of their oncoming employment challenges before they graduate to limit the onset of increasingly difficult employment issues.

Furthermore, higher education institutions need not be solely responsible for graduate employment as the success measures do not limit themselves to the academic curriculum alone. Therefore, I resonate with the research findings' suggestions that all stakeholders interested in youths' success, including employers and high school education institutions, should be required to strengthen a collaborative partnership to support the young person's journey from high school through the university journey. The transition from the academic institution to the world of work is not limited to academic success and, as such, should include the employment agenda as an essential component for post-secondary education pathways. Higher education institutions and all stakeholders must be accountable to ensure that young people have gained the expected interpersonal soft skills, social mobility to increase interactions with new social circles and the technical skills that will increase employability.

Finally, this article would be incomplete without Ms. V's reminder that career readiness is not a university degree, and educators at all levels must enhance the quality of career guidance given to students. Rising university graduates completing unemployable degrees risk increasing employment issues among youth and economies.


Written by : Maria Vitoratos, Career Educator, Lecturer & Coach, MV Careers