The business landscape for graduates

There are a broad range of career opportunities available for graduates. But those starting out on their career path need to be aware of how the business landscape has changed in order to take best advantage of it. We talk to Julie Ryan of the Irish Management Institute about what graduates can expect?

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Overview

There is no doubt that graduates are entering
an economy that it is in a better place than at any time
in the past decade. While the speed and breadth of
the recovery has been debated long and hard through
the media, the fact that it is happening is no longer in
question. However, questions remain and graduates
will be starting their careers in a business landscape
dominated by the looming ‘brexit’ uncertainty and its yet
to be determined effect on the economy.

While gross domestic product and the numbers at
work continue to rise, we have also reached, once again,
a phase of nett migration. For the first time in many
years there have been more people entering the country
to work and live than there have been leaving for the
same reasons. But there are still significant challenges,
particularly for those starting out on their careers.
Youth unemployment remains high, at an average of 17
per cent, which is more than double the official rate of
unemployment of 8.3 per cent.

So while opportunities are demonstrably on the
increase, the fact is that graduates are entering a
recruitment landscape that was transformed by the
recession, and is now more demanding than before,
requiring more flexibility, creativity and fluidity to
succeed.

The recruitment landscape today

Julie Ryan is Head of Tailored Solutions and Client
Development at the Irish Management Institute (IMI),
which delivers bespoke management and training to Irish
and international companies. Speaking to gradireland,
she first gave a panorama of how the landscape is
currently looking for graduate recruits. “There are huge
opportunities for graduating students, in a wide range of
sectors. One of the noticeable things about the business
landscape today is that, generally speaking, it is far
less hierarchical than it previously was. The traditional
‘pyramid’ of management tiers has, in some sectors, been
flattened, enabling graduates to see the opportunities for
development in a company at a far earlier stage than was
the norm. In today’s workplace, a people-centered culture
is far more prevalent, though of course some sectors do it
better than others. This development encourages workers
to think laterally, and work laterally, in line with the
‘flatter’ business culture which surrounds them.”
Julie adds that more and more companies are
beginning to understand that good corporate strategy is
synonymous with talent strategy and while it may not
appear on the balance sheet, talent is the most valuable
asset.

So what does a graduate recruiter want from graduates? “They’re looking for individuals who will
learn leadership behaviours early on, who will strive
and thrive providing a swifter return on investment for
the employer. The challenges for employers are to retain
good graduate employees and not fall victim to high
attrition rates. They need to provide a culture where the
graduate will be mentored and developed as they work
and that they can see their development path at an early
stage. The millennial generation are quite idealistic,
which some employers can construe as ‘needy,’ but it’s
more complicated than that. They are very flexible,
creative and open in terms of cultural awareness and
can provide a huge amount in return for a company that
provides them with the opportunity to develop. Many of
the top performing organisations believe leadership starts
at the point of career entry into the company – they are
talent spotting from Day 1 and not waiting until midcareer
to cultivate their senior leaders.”

While this people-centric, development led culture is
developing in Ireland, it can still learn from other global
organisations, with many employers ‘grappling’ with
the changes that this involves. So, to shift the focus from
the job provider to the job seeker, what can graduates
do to distinguish themselves from the competition?
“There’s a huge amount that graduates can do”, says
Julie. “It’s very important that they are proactive and do
not expect anything to be handed to them. It’s still a very
competitive marketplace. It’s very important that they
network, learn to listen and find out how the business
works. Developing communications skills and the ability
to understand and empathise with senior colleagues is
vital. In college, students can develop these skills through
volunteering and managing in clubs and societies.
While it’s important that companies offer development
opportunities for graduates, students shouldn’t expect the
HR Department to sort out their future for them, that’s
their responsibility.”

So, the outlook is bright, but graduates need to
keep an eye on the terrain, which is constantly shifting,
in ways not seen before. “CEO’s of some company’s
now have talent strategy as part of their performance
management metrics,” adds Julie. The whole issue of
talent management is moving beyond HR and becoming
far more company-wide in progressive organisations,
and we’re seeing a lot more of them out there. Today’s
graduates need to prepare themselves as best they can to
take advantage of the opportunities ahead.”

Ruairi Kavanagh is editor at gradireland.

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