Back to reality with a thump-ing large debt

Wow, two months, no post? I can only blame my job. This Working Girl has to work, you know!

So, two things have been floating about the internet that have caught my eye and I think I see a link. Graduate Prospects has published research (well, PR driven research, I guess) that shows graduates’ salary expectations are falling wide of the mark. (I’m trying hard to find a direct link to the research but failing, so if you can help, please do!)

According to the press release, a sixth of graduates think that they’ll earn £100,000 by the time they are 30. The reality: 77% of graduates from 2000-2010 earn less than £30,000.

Now, I don’t know what the split of those years are – this might be dominated by those that graduated less than 3 years ago (and probably is as most don’t stay interested in graduate salaries after that). Those graduating in 2001-2003 who might have hit 30 recently may be rolling in dough. The 7% who said they earn more than £45,000 might be counting the entire rewards package – and 7% could be so low because hey, if you’re earning more than £45,000, why the hell would you waste your time taking a poxy survey on what you earn? You have a job to do, dammit!

But I digress with my nit-picking of the research, and without seeing the full methodology I’m going to have to bumble around in the dark, making wild statements: getting a degree right now is really kinda dumb.

Lemme explain. You rack up £27,000 of debt, which has to be repaid if you earn over £15,000. The average salary of a graduate right now is around £18,000, I believe – which is lower than all those ‘graduate employers’ surveys that do the round like this one from High Fliers. Just because you are a graduate, it does not mean you automatically get a job on a graduate scheme. I didn’t.

Starting on £18,000 at 21/22 years old, maybe moving jobs or getting a pay raise to £21,000 after 2-3 years and then up another £2,000 in another 2-3 years etc – this makes about £27,000 or so a year by the time you are 30.  This seems like a fairly familiar and possibly generous salary to most of my social circle.

But you went into uni expecting to earn more than your average school leaver, and that there would be enough jobs for you and people would fall at your feet at your three years of wisdom gained by cramming for exams, trying to get into your neighbours pants and getting hammered on 20p vodka shots. So how come, according to High Fliers, that 25% of grad jobs have gone to those who deferred or by those who have work experience with that company?

And how come, according to Graduate Fog, that SMEs (the UK leading group of employers, by the way) are now giving away grad jobs to school leavers? It might have something to do with the sentence:

“A 2:1 doesn’t guarantee a motivated candidate who will stay with your organisation.”

Two things may be at fault here: apparently a 2:1 means you expect to earn mega-bucks by the time you are 30 and the top recruiters are PWC, Deloitte, KPMG, Teach First and the Army. Teach First and the Army have built in time periods so you can leave, and I think I know one person who stayed with a Big 4 firm after completing their grad scheme, as everyone else just hated them.

So grads don’t show loyalty to shitty employers and they expect to earn a lot. Two reasons that hiring a school leaver and training them up seems like a better way of keeping knowledge and talent in your team.

The bottom line: going to uni is a great thing. It opens your eyes to adulthood, a different way of life, different cultures and mindsets and allows you to have fun and meet lifelong friends. But it doesn’t guarantee a career.  I think the degree is becoming devalued after market saturation of the last decade – and I think sometimes the more career savvy of teenagers should be looking at getting on the career track at 18 and getting qualifications as they work.


One response to “Back to reality with a thump-ing large debt

  1. “You rack up £27,000 of debt, which has to be repaid if you earn over £15,000.”

    Or, under the Coalition’s plans, when you start earning £21,000.

    There are several problems here, most of which you cover: however, I absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t add my tuppence-worth, so…

    1) In the early 70s, about 5% of people went to university; now it is about 45%. So, each degree becomes worth substantially less. It’s like monetary inflation: put loads more pounds into the economy, and each pound buys less.

    2) A number of degrees are, quite frankly, crap—but not necessarily because what is taught is rubbish. I have spent my career in graphic design and, latterly, web software design and, in that time, have been intimately involved with hiring, otherwise seeing the results of degrees, etc.

    The simple fact is that a good many degrees in design teach great concepts of design but simply do not teach students how to apply that design through print, web, etc. So, they are almost impossible to start on lower-status jobs, and thus have to go for higher-status, higher-paid and thus more competitive areas.

    Second, degrees in extremely fast-moving areas like web design, web application proramming, etc. are getting to be near-obsolete by one year into the course: after three years, the market has moved on.

    But the graduates expect—some would say “need”—high salaries so the same problems as with design graduates above apply.

    3) All too many graduates think that simply having a degree should grant them a job—as such, they have a portfolio that is nothing but their degree. In actual fact (and I know that we are a somewhat practically oriented company, but still…), we tend to look for people who have done lots of coding in their spare time, etc. and who show a design to learn, and an aptitude for adaptation. Too few graduates show these abilities.

    4) As you imply, too many graduates think that they deserve a higher salary than a small company like ours can afford to pay. As such, they will not stay and are thus a bad investment.

    5) With a moribund economy and vastly increased costs of employing people, there simply aren’t as many jobs for anyone—especially those looking for higher salaries.



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