Guest post: Transforming the UK graduate market

Today’s guest post is by David Hoghton-Carter, Programme Director, Minerva Pathway. I met David at #GEC12 last week. I like the way he thinks about the real issue of employability for the average graduate i:e: Not born with a silver spoon.  He has set up a social enterprise to help tackle the problem. I’m glad to give him blog room to promote it. This is David:

Back in 2009, the Parliamentary Panel on Fair Access to the Professions under the leadership of Alan Milburn published its “Unleashing Aspiration” report . This highlighted the increasing social exclusivity of the professions and the severe difficulties faced by talented, aspirational young people attempting to access a professional career.

Just under a fortnight ago, on the same day as I met our good host Bill at Gradcore’s Graduate Employment Conference, Mr Milburn published an update to the report . The predictable verdict: this problem has only worsened in the last three years, and the decline in social mobility in the UK isn’t just a factor of the current recession.

There is a harsh reality behind the stats. Everyone knows the graduate job market is in a parlous state. Dozens of people chase each vacancy. Connections and networking are much more important than talent and ability. The internship dynamic often means that only those who can afford to work on very low pay (or often unpaid), in London, for many months can gain the experience they need to compete effectively for an entry-level professional job. As a consequence, anyone from a disadvantaged background – no matter how able and aspirational – is almost always going to be out-competed by default. Graduates from the regions find it even more difficult still. This situation isn’t anyone’s fault, and trying to apportion blame is counter-productive. It’s merely a fact of our economy, it has been since well before the recession, and it will be well into the future.

What to do? What do we need to do to solve this problem?

Campaigning? There are plenty of campaigns around the internship issue, doing good work in highlighting the stark contrast between best practice work placement opportunities and the real-terms employment rights abuses in the darker corners of the graduate market. I’ve included a few links below. There’s an urgent need for a change in the internship dynamic, and these campaigns are increasingly successful in dragging the internship market into the 21st century, sometimes kicking and screaming.

Raising aspirations? Aspiration-building isn’t a problem. There is plenty of aspiration amongst today’s young people, and organisations like the Social Mobility Foundation  and Envision  are helping to harness and channel it in positive ways. The rhetoric of aspiration has been at the heart of policy initiatives by successive governments, even as real-terms access to opportunity has failed to keep pace.

More careers advice? And there are plenty of good careers advisory services and recruitment services, with some great examples of forward-thinking practice amongst prominent organisations and companies. KPMG , for example, has a very strong internal training programme, which the rest of the graduate market would do well to learn from. And Minerva Pathway’s friends at Gradcore  are doing good work in raising awareness and working with a range of other companies to create high-quality graduate programmes.

But the problem of fast-withering social mobility continues, and the failure of Alan Milburn’s “potential social mobility dividend” remains.

That’s why there’s a need for Minerva Pathway . To build a coherent, scalable solution which supports and enables graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds to do what they need to do in order to build a career. To provide a skills package which can give programme participants a head start in the career race. And to help build positive links and networks.

The Minerva Pathway vision for change isn’t just about giving a few people a leg up, though, and it certainly isn’t crude social engineering. We’re more ambitious than that. We have a broad vision for the future graduate economy, focused on ensuring that regional graduates can access the support they need to help grow the graduate job market outside of London, first in the north of England, later nationally. We aim to make sure everyone languishing in the vast pool of wasted graduate talent has a chance to be innovative and entrepreneurial and to contribute to regional communities.

You can read more about the programme we’re developing on our website  and there’s plenty of added detail about our vision in our Development Diary . We also Tweet avidly, from @MinervaPathway ( @DAHoghtonCarter is my personal account, which you’re also welcome to follow), and we welcome contact through our website .

For your further edification:

Graduate Fog
Interns Anonymous 

With thanks to Bill for the opportunity to contribute