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The business landscape for graduates in 2015/16

If this year’s crop of graduates are feeling upbeat about their job prospects, they have good reason: they are making their foray into full-time employment in an era of considerable economic growth. By Gabrielle Monaghan.
The total number of jobs advertised in Ireland in the three months to June was up 17% on 2014’s numbers.

The post-collapse recovery may still be a little fragile after six years of austerity budgets. But most of the economic indicators show it is now in full swing, prompting more companies to ramp up recruitment for their graduate programmes. Gross domestic product expanded by 6.5% in the year to the end of March this year, according to the Central Statistics Office, returning the economy to the same size it was at in 2007 and continuing Ireland’s reign as the fastest-growing economy among the countries that share the euro. While releasing the figures in July, the CSO also revised GDP upwards for last year, from an initial estimate of 4.8% to 5.2%. There are some 100,000 more people at work than there were three years ago. This helped drive down the unemployment rate to 9.7% in June from 11.4% a year earlier and a peak of 15.1% in 2012.

Youth unemployment is still high, though, with 20% of those aged under 25 out of work. Schemes such as JobBridge, a government internship programme that pays €50 more than social welfare benefits, and emigration have, artificially in the view of many, kept jobless rates lower than they otherwise would have been. More than 240,000 emigrated after the financial crisis gripped Ireland in 2008, and nearly two thirds of them with postsecondary education, making them the best-educated wave of emigrants in Irish history. The Government is promising to reverse this so-called ‘brain-drain’ with initiatives to lure back expatriates, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged the number of Irish citizens returning home will exceed those leaving by 2016.

What employers want

Sinéad D’Arcy, the manager of the graduate programme at Jameson, which makes the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey, believes the tide is turning for graduates seeking a foothold in the jobs market. Jameson, owned by France’s Pernod Ricard, is hiring 75 graduates to become international brand ambassadors. They will be sent to 39 markets around the world to get the whiskey into the glasses of the brand’s target drinkers. Candidates have to include a two-minute video about themselves in their application. “In last 12 months to two years, the Irish economy has taken turn for the better, so companies are reopening graduate programmes or launching new ones,” Sinéad said. “There will be a lot more competition among Irish companies and international companies for graduate talent, so graduates will have far more choice.” Irish businesses are now hiring staff at a rate not seen since before the recession. The total number of jobs advertised in Ireland in the three months to June was up 17% on 2014’s numbers, a report by a major online recruiter showed. The sharpest increases in job postings were seen in banking, finance, and telecommunications.

A separate report found that there are some 6,000 vacancies in the IT sector, with computer science and technology graduates in particularly high demand. Ireland’s biopharma sector and associated industries will create 3,000 new jobs over five years, according to the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, a research and training facility in Dublin that is funded by IDA Ireland.

In the Republic, such graduates are also in short supply. Sectors including IT, engineering, science and healthcare are experiencing a dearth of qualified and experienced staff, according to a bulletin published in July by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, which advises the Government on labour market issues. Second languages are also scarce on the ground, a primary concern to employers according to gradireland’s own research. Lidl is competing with other employers keen to recruit graduates who speak fluent German, according to Tara Kleebaur, a talent acquisition and employer brand manager at Lidl.

“If they are working in buying, it’s very important that they have German,” she said. “We have in-house German teachers and graduates have the opportunity to improve their German and go to Germany. So the investment in these individuals is huge.” The discount retailer’s milk round for its 18-month graduate programme starts in mid-September and ends the first week of November. This year, the chain is hiring a record 20 graduates for its programme, which gives its participants a taste of what it’s like to work in 13 different areas within the business, from marketing to public relations. The best performers are given the opportunity to work in Germany for six months and spend time at its international head office. Small wonder it receives 1,000 applications a year.

Just because graduates have a greater choice of programmes doesn’t mean that employers aren’t very selective. Excelling in exams is not the only prerequisite for scooping a graduate placement – candidates must be able to deliver quickly, work well in a team, have good language and communication skills, and have racked up some experience in their chosen field. “At interview stage, you can really tell if a candidate has had previous experience from an internship or from working during school and college,” Kleebaur said. “If we have a group exercise during assessment, you can tell these people have learned to deal with other people in a business environment or have developed leadership skills.”

D’Arcy agrees. She believes academic prowess alone is not sufficient for the graduates Jameson and its rivals hire for international work. “We want people who see themselves as global citizens,” she said. “A lot of employers are looking for international experience. They want graduates who are very much self-starters and can go and work autonomously in a new country. If graduates have spent time studying abroad, it shows they are independent go-getters who can immerse themselves in other cultures.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the journalist.