A senior figure in the world of university career advice has admitted that the industry must do more to help graduates into work, as record youth unemployment statistics were announced last week.

It’s no secret that Graduate Fog thinks university careers advice is in desperate need of a total overhaul. What’s currently in place clearly isn’t doing the job. At a time when a degree has never been cost more — or been worth less — the quality of care and advice that students and graduates are receiving simply isn’t good enough. Graduate unemployment is a huge problem — as is the spread of unpaid internships. Yet careers services are failing to equip young people for the reality of finding a job in 2011.

The good news is that after years of pretending everything is fine, it sounds as though they are finally starting to admit that there is a problem.

In response to the dire youth unemployment figures released last week, Anne-Marie Martin, president of AGCAS (the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services), said:

“A degree alone is not a passport into a graduate job and it isn’t right for everyone, but to compete internationally, the UK needs a more educated, skilled and flexible workforce.

Consequently, the job prospects of graduates – and especially those who take advantage of some of the many opportunities both within and outside the curriculum to gain experience and learn relevant skills – are much rosier than those of 16 and 18 year old job seekers, and look certain to remain so.

However, we need to make sure that prospective and current students have access to genuinely helpful information and advice when making career and course choices. And, we need to ensure that all young people develop their employability skills alongside their subject knowledge.”

We think many unemployed graduates will agree that careers services have a lot of work to do in making themselves a useful resource for today’s university leavers . Here, recent graduates from some of the UK’s top universities tell us why their careers service simply didn’t deliver…

“No-one told me that interns should be paid”
Tom graduated from Manchester University in 2009 with a 2.1 in Philosophy, but no idea about his rights to the National Minimum Wage…

“In my final year, I went to see my university careers service to ask for advice about getting into publishing. A careers adviser told me I would probably have to complete some internships – but gave no information about my rights to be paid for my work. Nobody mentioned that there is a massive fight happening for interns’ rights and that I should get informed and the battle. Did they not know – or did they just feel it was too political to mention it? Either way, I think it was their duty to inform me. After graduating, I did three unpaid internships (totalling eight months). I now realise I should have been paid for these, as I had set working hours and I had a proper role within the company. If I had been told about my rights as an intern by my careers service then I would have known this before I applied for those internships and I wouldn’t have done them. My careers services really let me down — they should have given me better information about my rights. It’s disgraceful that only 10% of graduates know that unpaid internships are illegal.”

“I would have used the careers services if they were better advertised”
Adam, who graduated with a first in English from UWE Bristol in 2010, says his university careers service was badly marketed…

“At UWE the careers services were very poorly advertised. There was a section on our university website, but I never visited it. If you compare how other events and services are advertised on campus, the careers services are pathetic. I think if they were more proactive about encouraging students to use them they would have a better chance of helping graduates with their job prospects, which is what they are paid to do. I needed help with my CV, but I ended up asking friends and relatives for advice — I didn’t even think to visit the careers department. I think that says a lot.”

“The first time I was approached by my careers department was on my last day at university”
Charlotte, who graduated with a 2.1. in History from Sussex University in 2010, says her careers department should have approached her in the first year — not her final year…

“During my last lecture at Sussex, the careers department came in to give us a Power Point presentation. It included what a bullet-point list of transferable skills History graduates should have and a list of industries which might favour applicants with a history degree. Most of my friends had already been applying for graduate jobs for six months before this presentation, so it wasn’t providing us with any new information or any practical advice about where to find jobs. That presentation might have been helpful in the first year, but was almost completely useless at that stage in our education. With unemployment rates as they are, it is the job of university careers services to provide us with regular sessions of practical advice throughout our degree. Otherwise, what are they being paid to do?”

“They didn’t have enough appealing jobs on their books.”
Amy studied Geography at Leeds University and graduated with a first class honours degree in 2009. But her careers department failed to attract enough large employers to recruit graduates from her university – and she is still unemployed…

“Our careers department did advertise a few jobs, but hardly any were very appealing. I think that the careers department should actively seek out the kind of jobs that graduates will want, by building relationships with the big recruiters. I’m sure that they do this to a certain extent, but not nearly enough. It would be fantastic if the careers services acted like a job site — it could be the first place that graduates visit to find work after graduating. I have never seriously looked at their website to find work, because I know that big recruiters use other job sites more than they use university careers departments.”

“They didn’t show me how to make my degree appealing to employers”
Jack got a 2.1 in media studies from Brighton University in 2009. His careers service didn’t give him enough help with marketing his degree to potential employers…

“Degrees like media studies now have a bad reputation in the jobs market – which is why careers departments should be going the extra mile with to teach us how to overcome employers’ prejudices and sell ourselves as useful employees. The advice I received about writing a CV was generic – not tailored to my type of potential employers. If I had received better advice I think I would have found it easier to get a job after graduating. They should be giving each student a unique service. They didn’t teach me anything I couldn’t have found easily on the Internet.”

*Did your university careers service help you find a job?
Did they teach you that most unpaid internships are illegal? Did they help you find the best vacancies for your chosen career? There’s no need to name-and-shame (unless you’d like to!) – we’d just love you to share your experience!

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