Where Irish graduates most want to work

The public sector is officially where Irish graduates most want to work.
No, we didn’t believe it either but you can’t possibly argue with the largest student survey in Europe, can you?
Each year, the top German research institute trendence undertakes a student survey across 25 European countries asking questions about career choice, salary expectation, confidence in the future etc. It’s pretty detailed stuff and the results are published in the annual careers publication Ireland’s 100 leading graduate employers which also contains, not entirely surprisingly, a list of the 100 most popular graduate recruiters in Ireland.
But it’s the students’ views on sectors of work that are particularly interesting. They are asked to choose the sectors where they would most like to ply their trade and this year, nearly a quarter of the students surveyed wanted to work in the public sector. That’s despite bad news stories about job cuts and freezes on the recruitment of permanent staff.
In contrast, only 12 per cent saw their career starting in financial services – traditionally one of the most popular sectors for Irish graduates.
What does this mean? Is it a backlash against the banks or a heartfelt desire to put something back into the community? Or is it about perceived job security? And will it all change again once the economy recovers?

IT is booming, but can the system keep up with demand?

IT imageIT should be the ‘sector to watch’ in 2011, according to the Morgan McKinley Irish Employment Monitor, conducted in December 2010 and recently released. According to the report, the IT sector is ‘particularly buoyant’. This trend is reflected in the job postings on the gradireland.com site: currently 17.5 per cent of vacancies on the site are in the IT sector or looking for IT graduates, the biggest single sector.
There have been several recent job announcements in the IT sector (for example, Paypal and Google in the South, Kana software and SQS in Belfast). Anecdotal evidence points to an undersupply of developers, with some IT development and high-tech manufacturing positions proving almost impossible to fill. This represents a huge opportunity for suitably qualified graduates.
However, computer science courses are struggling to produce enough graduates to meet this need. The most recent HEA study shows that these courses have the highest drop-out rate in the country, with 27 per cent leaving within the first year. The latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report found that Irish students were significantly below the OECD average for maths – these two facts that cannot be separated. Insufficient ICT resources in Irish schools was the primary failing highlighted in the PISA report, and it has long been argued (for example, by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs) that a radical reform of the educational system from the age of 9 is required for Ireland to develop the maths skills necessary to produce graduates who can meet the needs of the IT industry in the years ahead.
Current Irish graduates should look at their skill sets and qualifications – there are entry points into the IT sector beyond Java or .NET developers. For example, the wider technology industry needs project managers, programme and development managers, and skills in quality assurance and testing. And communication is always vital in any industry – people who can write good technical documents will also find career opportunities in this area.

Insider tips: funding postgraduate study in the US

Thinking about studying at postgraduate level in the USA, but worried about the cost? Well, don’t panic: there’s plenty of financial support available if you know where to look.

According to Sonya McGuinness of the Fulbright Commission (speaking at the postgradireland Further Study Fair last week), a whopping 50 per cent of international students across the pond manage to secure themselves funding, either from their universities in the shape of Fellowships, Assistantships, accommodation stipends or other grants, or via external bodies.

Fees vary greatly between US colleges, and between individual degree programmes. Initial tuition fees and rates are lower at state universities – an MA at a public university can cost around $22,000, whereas at a private college the same course could set you back a cool $34,000.

However, there are ways you can minimise costs.

  • Think strategically, and apply to universities where you’ll be nearer the top of the pile when it comes to eligibility for funding.
  • The general costs of living are lower in rural, southern or Midwest areas. New York and Boston are the most expensive US cities for students, so bear this in mind if you are set on studying in one of these cities.
  • Once you are in the US, sniff out fellowships and other funding options offered by your university. Teaching and research fellowships often become available to PhD students in science and technology about six months into a doctorate, so if you are looking to do a PhD in these areas then it’s well worth researching this option.

As well as loans from Irish and US banks (or the Bank of Mum and Dad, if you’re lucky enough to have an account with them), there are other sources of funding, too.

The Fulbright Commission offers Irish postgraduates a number of grants and awards, ranging from foreign language teaching assistantships and all-discipline awards to the prestigious Fulbright Science and Technology Award, which provides a fully-funded PhD in science, technology, engineering or maths at one of the USA’s top US institutions. (That translates into $60,000 per academic year, for a maximum of five years.)

Don’t forget – and this is really important – that financial aid deadlines fall before the admissions deadlines for US institutions. The submission deadline for Fulbright awards is November.

To find out more about the Fulbright Awards, see www.fulbright.ie.

Solutions to graduate unemployment

AHECS logoGuest post from Seamus McEvoy, Chairperson, the Association of Higher Education Careers Services.

As the election approaches, one of the key issues is the scourge of unemployment in our country. That is why AHECS – the representative body for higher education Careers Services – has written an open letter to all election candidates outlining what we see as the three most urgent policy initiatives needed in higher education in Ireland to address graduate unemployment.
Our three proposals are centred on:

  • employability skills development;
  • career management learning; and
  • entrepreneurship and innovation.

We believe that these three issues need to be to the forefront of policy and practice in the Irish higher education sector.
The letter is accompanied by a supporting document, based on consultations with our members, giving detailed recommendations on how these policies should be implemented. The policies support and build on the key recommendations of the Hunt report – national strategy for higher education to 2030.
Every year, our members interact with the 180,000 students who are studying in the higher education sector and particularly with the 50,000 graduating students of that year. This gives us a unique insight into the issues facing today’s graduates in their efforts to find employment. AHECS sees career management as a critical knowledge and skill deficit for many students which hinders and impedes their individual career development and ultimately the development of Ireland as a knowledge economy and society.
AHECS proposes that employability and career management are placed at the heart of curriculum development and that they form an integral part of third level education strategy in Ireland. In addition, we recognise that entrepreneurship and innovation has a significant role to play in our economic recovery. In the current economic climate, graduates need to be job shapers, equipped with the skills needed to identify and create new opportunities for themselves. The benefits of creative thinking and innovation can assist individuals shape new careers within the economy. This too needs to be mainstreamed into higher education.

Face-to-face is the new online

Over the last few years, graduate recruiters have invested heavily in online media to promote their brand and market their vacancies. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Because where else are students to be found these days when they’re not down the pub? Yes, online. So as well as investing heavily in their own websites and using proper decent careers sites like gradireland.com, they’ve also been dipping nervous toes in Facebook and Twitter.

However, a recent survey undertaken by the global recruitment consultancy TMP Worldwide shows that, although students use the web for careers information and to research potential recruiters, when it comes to making serious decisions about who to apply to, then nothing beats a bit of face to face. Can recruiters convey their unique culture or show how their people are special purely online? Well, not according to the more than a thousand students who completed the survey.

So while recruiters will still put their message out there virtually, they ignore campus fairs, presentations and skills sessions at their peril. But just as face-to-face is critical for recruiters to promote their brand, culture and people, it’s also pretty important for students and graduates. You need to promote your ‘brand’, your skills, your knowledge of the organisation and above all your enthusiasm for the job because they will be judging you too.

I would argue that this is also true for students looking for postgraduate study. You can’t make a serious and expensive decision like choosing a course without speaking to people at the college, can you? So postgraduate fairs like those at your university – or the national and huge postgradireland Further Study Fair in Dublin next week – are a chance to find out more about course providers face to face. You’ll find it a much richer experience than looking at websites…

Employability and how to attain it

Employability is a word we hear an awful lot more these days. It’s a real 21st-century word, like tweeting and cappuccino. But what does it mean and how can the 21st-century graduate attain this exalted state?

One aspect of employability is ensuring that you have skills that match the demands of the job market. There is a dichotomy at the moment between the requirements of the labour market and the job-seeking labour force. Currently we know there are skills shortages in areas such as IT and financial services, and a demand for people with language skills. However there is an oversupply of construction and civil engineers, architects and lawyers.

In a recent post on the Hays Ireland blog, James Milligan suggests that a second European language should be given the same prominence in schools as Irish, because this will significantly increase long-term job opportunities. He also suggests that third level students who study courses with an internship could try and do this in a foreign speaking environment. Another suggestion is to study for a degree or masters related to the sectors where there are skills shortages.

In a recession employers are looking for employees who are flexible and have specific knowledge combinations, a few key ones being logistics and languages; marketing/sales and languages; finance and quantitative modelling; finance and law; statistics and software modelling; software architecture and business.

The recent jobs trend on gradireland.com supports this. During January this year there was an average of 155 graduate jobs each day on the site. IT jobs rose by 25 per cent and engineering (non-construction) by over 50 per cent during the month. One year ago the January 2010 daily jobs average was 95 so you can see that the jobs are there, and which sectors they are in – but looking at your skills and adding to them is the key to your employability in the current market.

Make a career out of caring

Do you enjoy meeting new people, and find that friends or family look to you for advice and support? Do you take pleasure in the achievements of others? Are you worried about embarking on a career path where job security can’t be guaranteed during troubled economic times (who isn’t)?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then a career in social work could be a great choice for you. It’s not for the fainthearted and requires a lot of hard graft, determination and patience, but for many the rewards can be second to none.

‘Being a social worker gives you a unique opportunity to work with and help people experiencing oppression in their lives’, explains a support worker for a charity in Northern Ireland. ‘It’s a great feeling being able to offer help and support to those that need it the most.’

She also credits her university placement with securing her position: ‘I got my current job through a college internship I did with a women’s charity.’

The sector across the island of Ireland is a small one, and a common route in for graduates is via the contacts that they make on placements, internships or voluntary posts.

A Dublin-based project worker agrees, adding: ‘making good contacts and a good impression will make you attractive to potential employers and is essential to career success.’

So if you are looking for a varied, fulfilling career where helping people to cope with life’s difficulties is your priority, then it may be worth looking into social work.

More information on this career is available in our new sector career guide, available to download from gradireland.com.