News & Analysis

Australian University graduates not cut out for the workforce?

- August 11, 2014 4 MIN READ

If you’ve ever walked into a job on the first day as a fresh University graduate, you’ll know that feeling – nerves tacked onto an overabundance of gusto and hair product. Little do these graduates know the real challenges they’re about to face in the workforce: underpreparation and people management skills.

A new survey conducted by Australian online jobs site OneShift has revealed that 49% of Australian University graduates feel that they are underprepared for the workforce whilst 80% think that work experience is more valuable than that fancy piece of paper at the end. Take it from someone who has spent 10 years at University completing two courses of no relevance, these graduates are not wrong.

In 2014 the youth unemployment rate sits at a 12-year high of 14.1%. Gen George, who is the 23-year old founder of OneShift, says that the question must now be asked, how can we more effectively prepare young Australians for the workforce?

George recommends that tertiary institutions should place more focus on work experience programs and encourage students to simultaneously focus on developing professional skills that are now seen as vital to the workplace.

“The current transition from university to work can be very rough and many young Australians are finding themselves overwhelmed by a highly competitive job market that places little value on their tertiary qualifications and results,” she says.

“Tertiary institutions in this country are of outstanding quality, and offer a rich learning experience for those who can attend. However, what we’re seeing is that students don’t necessarily feel that those three or four years of study have properly prepared them for the realities of the working world.”

Gen has a very good point here. When I was at University studying Engineering, there was an immense focus on the theoretical aspects of the practice. One day, an older student from TAFE next door joined the course. In no time at all, he was able to make a call on the “stupidity” of some of his fellow classmates; those who could effortlessly program the next NASA flight plan mission on a laptop, but not know the difference between a flat head screwdriver and a Philips head screwdriver. “They won’t know how to deal with shit when they’re in the shit,” were his exact words.

Fast forward to my Journalism course and the disparity between knowledge and work-based knowledge appeared to be slightly larger, but not completely unsupported by the University. Work experience programs (albeit very limited places) were put in place at the disposal of students but it was entirely up to them to acquire experience on their own.

In the classrooms it was rote learning from proper industry heads who taught students the necessary field skills, but spoke nothing of the corporate game itself – the juggling of workplace politics, the management of various tasks nowhere near your job description, the obligation to let your general manager take your lunch just to keep your job, or the need to schmooze with the right people to progress one’s career.

People management skills 101: it’s what I believe these graduates lack and genuinely need to survive in the competitive employment market today. As an aside, I’ve also coached English to high school students for the past two years and the amount of parents I’ve had to speak to, assuring them their kids will definitely make it into University is staggering.

What we’re encouraged not to say to these parents however is that they’re asking the wrong question. University allows you to say that you can work in your respective field; there is absolutely no guarantee you will have a job waiting for you in that field once you graduate.

This was something I learnt whilst interning for free at one of the world’s most recognised men’s publication for one and a half years alongside a ten year HECS debt that I’m still afraid to look at today. I learnt that the University = $$$ model is obsolete.

So what is the solution to this? Look out for number one; learn the actual ropes of the business-corporate game in University before thinking it’ll be all sweet at your new job. No one else will teach you this stuff because 1] they’re not paid to and 2] they’re not your psychologist/life coach.

Or just take a page out of 26 year-old millionaire Uni-dropout Jack Delosa of Entourage, who revealed in a 2013 article:

“I had a stressful entry into the business world. When I was 18 I dropped out of a commerce law degree and I borrowed $20,000 from the bank to launch a B2B call centre. It went terribly and the problem starting a business when you are 18 is you think you know everything and I was certainly guilty of that. I lost a lot of money and it took me years before I finally accepted it wasn’t working.”

“The big lesson I learnt about creating a successful business is it’s not about who is the smartest in the room but about who can work the hardest and fastest.”

George adds to this notion and stresses that the onus is on future jobseekers as well as Universities; that students should use the time they have to test the waters in a range of industries, particularly during the semester breaks.

“It can seem difficult to make the time for work experience or internship programs when you’re studying or even travelling abroad, but these years are an excellent opportunity to build the skills, contacts and confidence that will help you succeed in the workplace. It shows great initiative and also offers you the chance to form a better idea of the kind of career you may like to pursue, or to be honest, avoid.”