The business landscape for graduates
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.