The government has announced an initiative to provide three-month paid internships to university leavers, in an attempt to reduce the impact of a worsening labour market on graduate employment prospects.
John Denham, universities secretary, offered details of the placements, which are intended to increase students’ employability by providing workplace skills. Interns will be paid a rate only slightly higher than the income received via loans and grants as an undergraduate. So far four firms are involved in the £140m scheme, including Barclays and Microsoft.
The scheme comes as a response to employers reducing their yearly intake of graduates dramatically, especially in those sectors hit hardest by the financial crisis such as banking and finance. One study estimates recruitment targets in some of the UK’s top 100 firms have dropped by as much as 17%, and in the financial sector by 47%. Employers have been cancelling their stands at graduate employment fairs, or narrowing their focus to the elite universities.
Some Sussex students are sceptical of the plan. “If there’re no jobs when I graduate, what’s going to change in three months?” says Emilio Casalicchio, 3rd year Philosophy and Film student, “All it seems to do is delay the inevitable and give cheap temporary workers to massive companies”.
The situation echoes previous recessions such as the dotcom bust in 2002/03 and the early ‘90s, but even further, with the UK economy being in an estimated 28-year low, the situation could continue to deteriorate. NUS president Wes Streeting has commented, “We’re all very acutely aware that the picture facing this year’s graduates is very bleak…It’s going to be quite hard”.
Not all employers have followed the trend however, with jobs for university leavers in the public sector increasing by 51% since 2007, and many employers, including Lloyds TSB, recruiting as many graduates as in previous years, calling it a “long-term investment”. It is also likely that more students will turn to postgraduate study in an effort to ride out the recession and gain high-level skills at the same time
Even so, criticism has been levelled at the government for helping to create excess numbers of graduates. Its long-standing commitment to having half of people educated to graduate level appears to have led to a pool of highly skilled workers vulnerable to an employment downturn. John Denham’s comment, “What do we do with them? We can’t just leave people to fend for themselves,” points to the fear the government has of a backlash from graduates. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is sceptical of the plan, saying internships for graduates does nothing to address the fear of permanent unemployment and will not lead to a single new job. Some, such as shadow skills secretary David Willetts, believe the focus on graduates is less of an issue than getting young workers more vocational skills, the Conservatives proposing to funnel £500m into apprenticeships and ‘train-to-gain’ programmes.
In an attempt to place Sussex students in the best possible position to find employment, the “Career Develoment and Employment Centre” (CDEC) publishes on their blog the latest careers-related news and vacancies they have discovered. Jane Wilders, one of their careers advisers, is spearheading a recession advice campaign.