This Should be Compulsary reading for ALL Undergraduates…………..

I have commented in several blogs about “graduate employment” and whether students have unrealistic expectations about jobs when they graduate or whether they have been “sold a pup” by being encouraged to go to university spend £27k on fees and probably another £30k on living expenses to find they are applying for jobs they could get without a degree.

Well, a colleague sent me details of an article by Paul Redmond, the AGCAS President and his comments about student employment…………..makes salutary reading and is very honest. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about student expectations and employment…….

Without wishing to sound unhinged, there are three phrases which, with your blessing, I propose we strike immediately from the lexicon of careers terminology:

    1)  ‘Graduate job’
    2)  ‘Non-graduate job’
    3)  ‘Under-employment’

There they are – the gruesome threesome. If it were down to me, if spoken in conferences or appearing in research papers, each of these worthy but wholly misguided phrases would attract on-the-spot fines. If dished up in the presence of students, mandatory prison sentences.

Alright, perhaps that’s going a bit too far, particularly for AGCAS. So let’s scrap the on-the-spot fines.


Last week I was doing my bit for the old Assoc. at a Westminster forum on graduate employability. A debate took place between civil servants, academics and representatives from HESA. The subject was how best to code ‘graduate’ and ‘non-graduate’ jobs. For dessert, how to decide if someone is or is not under-employed. For several hours, like a reconstruction of the Battle of Waterloo, the argument swirled backwards and forwards. Eventually, at some point between Quatre Bras and Hougoumont Farm, a light bulb, admittedly of a low-wattage, flicked on in my head.

 Don’t ask me why, but I suddenly recalled a comment Bill Gates is reputed to have made when talking to an audience of American students about their future careers. The great philanthropist must have been having an off day, because he gave it to them straight. This is what he had to say:

 “… and remember, burger-flipping is NOT beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a word for jobs like that. They called them OPPORTUNITIES.”

 Wow. Until then, I hadn’t realised Bill Gates knew my dad. Throughout my teens, my dad used to give me the very same speech, usually accompanied with a good deal more animation.

The point, of course, is this: terms such as ‘graduate’ and ‘non-graduate’ are constructs invented by people who operate in the rarefied atmospheres of Whitehall and academia. Alone, they have no bearing whatsoever on the actual world of work – the world in which students and graduates must operate. As we know, things are tough enough as it is without someone piping up to tell you that according to their coding system, you’ve not got a proper ‘graduate’ job.

 And what’s under-employment when it’s at home? Was Anita Roddick (a drop-out teacher, remember) under-employed when spending her days potioning-up her famous peppermint foot balm? Were those four innocent smoothies from Cambridge ‘under-employed’ (or, for that matter, working in non-graduate jobs) when they confiscated their mums’ food blenders? No, of course not. They were something entirely different. They were entrepreneurs.

 As we in our line of work recognise, there are no ‘graduate’ or for that matter ‘non-graduate’ jobs – and there certainly isn’t any such a thing as ‘under-employment’. But there are OPPORTUNITIES – lots of them, everywhere you look.

 And jobs aren’t static! How many times have you heard about people starting off in relatively low-level jobs only to end up running the show? If we’re serious about helping students become more enterprising, the first thing we need to do is to retire these useless terms and start focusing on how the 21st century job market actually works.

It’s funny, you know, but when I was eighteen I thought my dad hadn’t got a clue about the world of work. By the time I was twenty-one, I was amazed at just how much he’d managed to learn in three years.

Paul Redmond
AGCAS President
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