A Bit About Students

Oops! Bit behind with my blog posts in 2010, sorry! I’ve lots of great excuses for this of course, but I won’t bore you with them!

So my main day job is recruiting quantity surveyors, but at the moment I’m also working with some final year business school students at a university on the outskirts of London. It’s a pilot scheme on employability which I’ll tell you about it in more detail some other time, but over the last couple of months I’ve been spending two days a week meeting students, staff and so on.

Now the public sector is a bit of a change of pace for me and, I won’t lie, I find it highly frustrating at times! But the first time I met some of the students it really clicked for me and I totally get it now. They make it all worthwhile! The kids (I call them kids but, of course, they’re 20/21 so hardly kids! In fact, it’s just occurred to me how patronising that is so I’m going to stop calling them that starting from now!) The students are great – they are polite, articulate young adults who are passionate about their subjects and are working their butts off to get the best degrees they can. They know the job market isn’t great and they are worried about what’s going to happen to them after they graduate, but they’ve got so much work to do before graduation that it’s just not that high on their radar.

It’s been really interesting to see the different stages they’re all at. The common feeling amongst university staff is that most of the students have part-time jobs already but, while some do, I haven’t found this to be true on the whole. In fact, I’ve met some students who have never held any kind of employment, ever; some who don’t have CVs; and some who don’t even know what covering letters are! And this has really got me thinking – there is just so much pressure on the younger generation these days!

When I was young (after the days of black and white television, but before the days of the iPods) you got a job as soon as you could. Whether it was a paper round, a waitressing job, or working in a shop, everyone was at it, so by the time you entered the world of full-time work it wasn’t really that much of a shock to the system. At 15 I was (possibly illegally, with hindsight…) working weekends in a cafe and, with the exception of some periods while I was backpacking, I have always held a job since. In fact, it was really only five years ago when I moved in with Mr J that I stopped having a full-time job and a part-time job on top of that too. These days it doesn’t seem to work like that though and the more students I meet, the more I understand this. Because it’s not just about how good your degree is these days, for some graduate schemes you also have to have the right number of UCAS points to even be considered. So really, once your GCSEs are out the way, you’d better knuckle down if you want to get the right kind of graduate job when you’re 21/22!

What pressure! When did we start being so tough on our kids? When did we stop valuing work/life experience and start focusing so heavily on academia? And how can we possibly expect 15/16 year olds to know what they want to do five or six years down the line, particularly when they don’t know anything about the working world?! I met one girl who’s wanted to be a family law solicitor since she was 13. What amazing focus and passion she has! How amazing that she has always known what she wanted to do! But law is highly competitive and for her dream to become a reality she’s had to work non-stop since her GCSEs. With the exception of the odd week of work experience, she’s never had a job – she’s never had time. Because there are those of us who are able to get a first class honours degree with relative ease, and there are those of us who have to bury our heads in our books solidly for three years in the hope of even getting a 2:1.

On one hand, meeting the students has been a scary business: The starting point for helping them to find jobs is way before where I expected it would be. But on the other hand I totally understand their quandary and I feel as though there’s so much more we need to do for them. “We” the educational establishments, “we” the potential employers, “we” the parents.

Now. Where to start…?


10 Responses to “A Bit About Students”

  1. 1 David McQueen January 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I totally agree that our youth are under some tremendous pressure. On Friday I was speaking at a school in North London where we are running and attainment programme. I was with them when they opened their mock GCSE results. Some were ok with their results but there were some who were distraught with their results, even though they were only mocks!

    Whilst I loved doing the attainment programme I keep on reminding them that they should also enjoy their teen years. Bearing that in mind the majority who were distraught were ethnic of eastern european backgrounds and they’re distress was more with what they had to tell their parents.

    It’s a tough world out there. I think that we need to encourage them to work hard. Actually work smart, but also allow them to be immersed in work experiences and volunteering and extra curricular activity that will compliment their studies. Otherwise a generation will be messed up.

    Great post by the way.

    • 2 Wendy January 20, 2010 at 9:25 am

      You’re right – a lot of pressure does come from parents, whether they mean to make their kids feel that way or not. One international student at my place has just been diagnosed with MS. He was more worried about going home and having to disappoint his family with news that he’ll be unable to complete his degree than he was about the fact he has a life-long, debilitating disease…

      Thanks for your comments David.

  2. 3 Paul Weston January 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

    What an interesting blog. I am similar to you on age and agree that it was a little different/easier getting a job at 14 or 15. I had 2 paper rounds in the morning before school and an evening job in a shop. This did not effect my studying either. But everyone was doing the same.
    The pressur mounted on kids of today to knuckle down and get top grades is immense and a strain on them. Yet there is no guarantee that they will get a job in the profession in which they have spent so long studying.
    Harsh times indeed.
    What can we (the unified royal we) do to assist?

    • 4 Wendy January 20, 2010 at 9:33 am

      I can’t decide whether it really was easier or whether there was just less pressure on us… My parents were totally supportive of my working and didn’t pressure me into getting straight A*’s or going to university when I didn’t want to. Some people perform better under pressure but others just crumple.

      I’ve no idea what the royal We can do to help the youth of today, sadly. I do think that schools, parents, employers and the government should all be putting their heads together and trying to come up with a solution though – no one group is to blame, after all – it seems to be a hybrid of all of them.

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. 5 Lindsay Scott January 18, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Interesting post Wendy, we did a presentation at a London university a few months ago to the students who would be graduating this year with a view to getting into a project management post.

    Here’s the presentation on our graduate pages:

    Best advice for final year graduates is to gain that much needed practical experience through any means you can and make sure you start creating that CV now. Pretty common sense advice but I don’t believe enough students are making plans for their graduation now, today, this week!

    • 6 Wendy January 20, 2010 at 9:46 am

      Thanks for your comments Lindsay, I agree wholeheartedly. I understand why they’re not making plans for their graduation, but there needs to be a balance. So many final year students have said to me that they wish they’d done a sandwich course with a year out on placement so that they had some much needed (relevant) work experience. Several also said that they wished they had known that the final year was going to mean so much more work; that way they could have prepared their CVs and researched graduate schemes in greater detail over the summer holidays. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and there’s only so much we can warn them about in advance, but I do wonder whether (the royal) we are doing enough.

      Your presentation and graduate page is really good – now if only more companies would get involved in helping students like that!

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Over ten years’ recruitment, employability, HR and sales experience in both the private and public sectors. I've worked in construction recruitment, FMCG headhunting, and in higher education on the employability agenda.

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