We watched with pride as thousands of young people celebrate their graduation this July. The excitement, the ceremonies, the grandeur, the sense of accomplishment after all that hard work over so many years is emotional for both parents and their wards. At last, you have reached that milestone against all odds.
There has been the silent “promise” of success if you follow this path; both your parents and society expected you to graduate and “everything will be ok.” The plan was that with this solid foundation, armed with a degree under your belt, you would step out into the world and start to build your own future. For many young graduates, however, that economic promise has not come. Not for a year, two, three years and beyond. Having a degree has simply not translated, as expected, into a job.
Some have applied, unsuccessfully, for hundreds of jobs. Some have part-time work or internships. There is the temptation to stay in school, if your parents can afford it; surely a masters degree should improve your chances. Today’s graduates and MBAs holders compete for entry-level jobs. The grand graduation ceremonies continue and lengthen an already long unemployment queue.
Youth unemployment is one of today’s biggest global challenges. The bleak job prospects for educated, able, motivated, young people, has reached alarming proportions. Many are losing hope of finding jobs, and some have stopped the search altogether as they see no path to success. This is a dangerous picture of the potential for a lost generation of young workers, if the sheer scale of the unemployment situation is not addressed with a dedicated and focused effort.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This proverb suggests that the ability to work is of greater benefit than a one-off handout. In the words of Mohammed Yunus: “Don’t ask for a job. Make your own.”
Many young people, especially in developing economies, turn to entrepreneurship because of the lack of job opportunities. This does offer innovative solutions for economic growth among young people who are brimming with incredible ideas. But not everyone is able to become an entrepreneur without support. As a result, the vast majority of small businesses will fail within a short period. It is thus important to direct our educational system and philanthropy to programs that provide the required tools, vocational and skill set training, mentoring and seed capital to ensure they acquire the skills and expertise the need.
The government cannot do this alone. We must all get involved in addressing this critical issue; the consequences of not doing so can devour us all. Studies have shown that youth unemployment is associated with intense stress and depression, an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, crime and, at the extreme, terrorism.
Consider setting up your own business
Do you have a special skill or talent? Be creative and identify that special gift or talent that you might have ignored before now. Is it in art, photography, public speaking, playing a musical instrument, writing, fashion design, web design, graphics design? There are endless options to put your talents to use that you can leverage upon to earn.
What is it that you are passionate about and capable of doing relatively easily and well? When you are young and free of significant financial or personal commitments such as a family, mortgage and other debt, you have a unique opportunity to take some risk and consider establishing your own business if you are so inclined. Do you have what you consider to be a great idea that you are passionate about and doesn’t have huge start up costs? You may be surprised at what you can accomplish.
There may be comfort in numbers. Perhaps you could partner with a classmate or a friend whose skills complement your own and set up something together.
Cultivate your network
Effective networking is achieved through cultivating relationships over time. Reach out to those with whom you already have a personal, professional or academic connection.
Does everyone you know realize that you are looking for a job? Use all the contacts and connections that you have, including your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends and so on. Make sure they know what your skills and talents are, so that they keep you in mind when they hear of any openings.
Stay in close touch with professional colleagues and actively seek to expand your network. Networking activities provide opportunities to gain useful insights on careers, get job leads, and for you to sell yourself. Stay in touch with former managers from internships and part-time jobs. If you left a good impression, they might be able to help. Many great job opportunities are not advertised; they are often filled by personal contacts.
Your CV should be truthful, flawless and perfectly tailored to the positions you are seeking, as well as presenting your diverse skills for any opportunity. You cannot afford to sit at home until you find your dream job. Be flexible and expand your scope; you might need to accept a job that is below your expectations given your credentials. This will boost your chances of finding something that is relevant, and will still utilise your training and abilities and enhance your skills. Do your best in whatever comes.
Consider working for free
One good way to get your foot in the door with a company or organisation is to demonstrate to them what you can do. By working as an intern or volunteering, you have an opportunity to impress them by showcasing your skills, commitment, and professionalism, and doing something that makes a difference. This might make them want to hire you. Even if it doesn’t translate to a permanent role, you would have gained valuable experience.
Try to avoid having significant gaps of unemployment in your CV to have to explain in interviews. A future employer will be impressed that you did not just sit at home doing nothing, but you kept yourself occupied gaining experience and new skills.
Continue to develop yourself
Never stop learning. Develop additional skills such as a new language, IT skills or other skills will broaden your job options and keep you current and engaged. While no learning is wasted, becoming an eternal student gathering every available qualification may not necessarily give you that edge. Be strategic about your choices and seek relevant continuous training and experience that can directly support any chosen career path.
The hard reality is that being a graduate never guaranteed anyone immediate employment. As you await that “right” job, open yourself to various opportunities and experiences. Even amidst the uncertainty, try to maintain a sense of optimism and resilience. A supportive group of friends that encourage and support you is important.
Despair and depression will only make you less attractive to a potential employer. It is that strength of character and self-confidence that will make you stand out and help get you through an employer’s door, or even the door of your own small business.
We must all be mindful of the loss of incredible talent and skills, as a generation of youth are unable to put their knowledge and capabilities to good use contributing to economic growth. This poses a serious threat to our economic, social and political welfare. Take just one young person under your wing, talk to them, mentor them, give them a job if you can, support them and be there for them. Our youths are our future.