From university to the workforce: The Pandora’s box of graduate life

Written by: Melanie Wong
Published by: Jay Lee

Graduation. For most students, this is the most pivotal transition between studying and working to pay off your HECS debt; the peak of the mountain, so to speak, that defines whether or not you make the cut for professional life. In recent decades, this has been the norm – you study, you graduate, and you get a job that aligns with what you were studying in university. For many, graduating is a big enough task to tackle, with university degrees often requiring work experience hours as part of the coursework in order for students to graduate. But in recent years, the Australian job market has increasingly become an uncharted sea and the traditional ways to navigate it are shifting with the tides.

The world of work has been changing for many years, with young people choosing a larger variety of paths following school. Yet, while the adolescents of the 21st Century are exploring more options such as entering the job market straight out of high school, travelling or creating their own entrepreneurial start-ups, university remains one of the top options, often because students (and parents) think that surely a degree will lead to a job, a steady income and lay the foundations for a successful career.

Well, recent trends say no.

Here’s the biggest catch for those trying to push their way into the workforce: to get experience, you need a job but to get a job, you need experience. A university degree used to be one way to cheat the system, especially in coveted jobs in the healthcare industry where a university degree can often be the only way into the system, but recent nursing graduates have found that while their numbers are great, and their motivation is sky-high, the actual number of full-time permanent jobs available to them is dwindling. This common misconception of university students that graduate jobs are a guarantee shouldn’t be blamed on the students. In fact, the job market started to change many years ago two years ago and ‘local’ nursing students expecting a spot in a graduate program are often disappointed, with international students missing out more often than not. There are only so many program positions for new graduates and while they are often offered to domestic students, the limited number of offers ensures that a growing percentage of graduates are unable to secure a permanent position straight out of university.

But where does this misconception come from in the first place? One answer is, unsurprisingly, parents’ expectations and understandings of the workplace that they entered, which has changed vastly in the years since. Yet, in a bid to attract more students, universities can also paint unrealistic pictures of the transition from student life to workforce, from graduation into the ‘real world’. More specifically, student career centres of both secondary and tertiary education may have outdated information that can influence students’ perceptions of their chosen fields of study. Because many of these centres are voluntarily accessed by students, the number of students actually accessing information about the workforce they would like to enter can be small.

This issue isn’t exclusive to the nursing industry. While jobs with a foundation in arts and humanities have long had a reputation of being competitive and limited in number, other professions such as teaching have also suffered from a growing supply and diminishing demand.

For recent graduates, it’s important to keep this in mind and not be deterred by the first rejection, or the second, or the third. There’s no real, clear-cut answer to this narrowing job market, but one thing’s for sure – to succeed, you need to stand out. In a system as competitive as the healthcare one, this can be no easy feat. But each individual has the ability to bring something special to their position, to embrace it and to make it their own; all that’s left to do now is to show employers exactly what makes you so different.

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