Grad Nauseam: Disenchanted Grads Don't Use Degrees at Work

Last Updated Mar 29, 2010 11:39 AM EDT

Recent graduates haven't been able to make use of their degrees at work, says research from HR organisation the CIPD. A survey of 700 recent university grads found that 58 per cent hadn't been able to put their coursework into action because the jobs weren't there, while 21 percent chose a new career path. More damning, perhaps, is the smaller proportion for whom their degree prepared them not one iota for their working lives.

Yet the government's keen to raise university grad numbers and promised to create additional university places in science, maths and techology subjects to accommodate new entrants to university this September. As the CIPD's skills adviser, Tom Richmond, observes, if this is how new jobbers start when our graduate rate is 39 percent, what will it be if we achieve the government's desired target of 75 percent grads?

But it also raises wider questions as to the purpose of education -- and how well it serves UK businesses. Here are a couple that spring to mind:

1. How closely can, and should, education match specific business needs? There are drawbacks to government and business getting too closely involved (tinkering with the curriculum; target-driven teaching). What's being taught today won't necessarily stand UK plc in good stead tomorrow -- so pushing money at STEM-specific courses doesn't guarantee the UK a bright and innovative business future, sadly.

While the mere possession of a degree doesn't prove you can reason or solve problems, it should help with what businesses call 'employability' skills -- teamwork, business and customer-awareness, communication skills, attitude. So why do employers so often complain their new grad employees aren't work ready? And businesses, isn't it our job to help in that department?

2. What's the purpose of a degree -- and does it matter whether you're not using it directly at work? From an employer's point of view, it may demonstrate you've got specialist skills in, say, engineering. But what if you studied something without a specific career attached to it -- or chose a subject because it seemed interesting?

I knew someone who studied philosophy and is now a corporate lawyer, another who went from a BA in theology to an MA in biology then a career as a writer, both with considerable success. I see the connection, but would today's employers?

Job considerations didn't much feature in degree choice among my peers (GenX), and the fact that jobs were scarce probably meant some career plans were slower to take off. But the work along the way was valuable and, arguably, this ought to make GenX-ers in hiring positions more open-minded when recruiting grads.

I suspect it's not so, though -- and I doubt any graduate today could get away with being so non-career-minded. Is there absolutely no room for the idea of 'education for education's sake'?

What do you think? Do you use your degree?

(Pic: Haxxah and KraZug cc2.0)