Graduates without work experience will be left out in the cold

Over one third of entry level jobs will go to graduates already involved with companies.

Many soon-to-be graduates will be left without a job due to lack of work experience, new research suggests. High Fliers’ The Graduate Market in 2013 report, released today, declares that of all entry level vacancies available for 2013, over a third will go to those who have already completed internships or work experience for the company.

The toughest fields to get into without having experience are banking and law, it has been revealed. This may well be, but what happens when these internships are so fiercely competitive that they are practically impossible to come across?

In the legal profession, university students have the option to apply to take part in a vacation scheme: a two or three week paid work experience that provides insight – and contacts – in a law firm. However, Jack Denton, co-founder of the research website, estimates that for approximately 3,150 places on the schemes nationwide, there are more than 12,000 applicants.

Three thousand schemes might seem like a generous amount, but when one considers that most students who secure one work placement also manage to achieve at least one more in another firm, these get swallowed up very quickly by a fairly select bunch.

As former Labour minster Alan Milburn pointed out in his 2009 report, Fair Access to the Professions, law is one of the “most socially exclusive” fields to work in, and firms’ “closed shop mentality” means that connections, and ‘who you know’, is often prioritised above talent. It is unfortunate that this attitude isn’t limited to the legal profession.

Managing director of High Fliers Research, Martin Birchall says:

“This latest research confirms that taking part in work placements or internships whilst at university is now just as important as getting a 2.1 or a first-class degree”.

So what other options are available to those who haven’t managed to secure this ever-important addition to their CV?

With most core Universities offering hundreds of societies which welcome the participation of anybody and everybody, there is no excuse for not getting involved. It is not, either, impossible to go one step further and assume a volunteer role in the committees of these societies. Invaluable budgeting experience could be gained in the role as treasurer, for example, organisational skills for social secretaries and management skills for presidents.

Students need to make the most of opportunities that are there for them,  before it is too late and all that can be done to beef up the CV is to work tirelessly for free in the hope that one pitiful employer might eventually hire you for, you know, real money.

Or, following Adam Pacitti’s recent example, entry level aspirators could make their own opportunities. This 24-year-old Portsmouth University graduate spent his last £500 on a Camden billboard begging employers to ‘Employ Adam’. Inspired, huh? He is looking for a job in the creative field of television production, so let’s hope someone takes a punt on him soon and ends the unemployed misery of at least one former student.

But it’s not all bad news for the next generation to leave university. The outlook is good for the 2013 graduate job market, with an expected increase of 2.7 per cent. Perhaps that will go some way to reduce the approximate 50 per cent of graduates from last year who are under- or unemployed.

Hold on to your hats - graduate employment is a bumpy ride. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.