Doles and degrees: The lost generation part two?

By Helen Le Caplain

“I want a double, that’s a double espresso shot made up into a tall Americano.”

There was a pause.

“So you want a large black coffee?”  

I sighed inwardly as I noted down the latest in a string of ridiculous orders this woman had made in the last 30 minutes.

I was seven hours into my 11-hour shift, and my 20-minute lunch break seemed a very long time ago.

I struggled to muster up any enthusiasm for making the coffee at the machine, and while heaping granules into the filter thought, “I should be the one making, not taking the orders.”

I placed the drink on the table with a forced smile and received nothing more than a look of contempt in return. Gee, thanks.

A year ago I, as a member of the Class of 2010, had completed my four-year degree in politics, which included a 12-month internship in Westminster.

And after all that hard work to achieve the elusive 2:1 I so desperately wanted (and got), here I was in a high-street restaurant chain taking orders off this odious woman.

As I rang the payment through the till (if you were wondering I wasn’t left a tip) I thought ‘how on earth did I end up here?’

Quite simply, it’s the recession ‘wot done it’.

Official figures released six months ago showed that 20 percent of ex-university students were unemployed in the third quarter of 2010.

 This is the highest unemployment rate for new graduates in over a decade.

ONS statistics also revealed that almost 1 in 5 recent graduates who were actively seeking for work were unable to find any, this was almost double the number before the start of the recession.

And if that news wasn’t bad enough, the data also shows that graduate unemployment increased faster for new graduates compared to the jobless rate in the UK as a whole.

So the good news is I’m not the only person in this situation. Yes Messers Cameron and Clegg, it would seem from a graduate perspective we are all in this together.

But there is hope. The figures also revealed that the unemployment rate for those aged 21-24 who have a degree is marginally less, at 11.6% compared with 14.6% of those who do not.

This is something that Charlie Ball, Deputy Director of Research at Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU), is keen to stress.

He said: “The job market is nowhere near as bad [as you may think] it’s not brilliant but it’s been worse than this before and is improving quickly.”

Charlie recognises that the increase in fees may influence young peoples’ decision to go to university, but emphasised the value of having a degree.

He said: “The short and long-term employment prospects for graduates is much greater, it’s a big boost to employability.”

Shona Barron, 23, is a graduate from Lincoln who was awarded a first class Master in Physics from the University of Hull.

She bucked the national trend and became a trainee dosimetrist in the radiography department of Queen’s Hospital in Romford, in September 2010.

She organises treatment planning and ensures cancer patients are given the correct dosages during radiotherapy.

She said: “I feel lucky that I got a job in the medical physics field. I think it helped that I knew where I wanted to be career-wise but I feel very lucky that I didn’t have to use my back-up plan to get into my chosen career.

“It would have involved getting related experience, either in an unpaid role or trying to get a job where a degree isn’t a requirement.”

Dr Dalia Ben-Galim, Associate Director of IPPR, recognises that not all graduates are as lucky as Shona has been, and warned of the effects of long-term youth unemployment.

She said: “We have experienced high youth unemployment in Britain before in recent decades and we know how it can scar the lives of young people when they can’t get onto the jobs ladder.

“Many never recover and spend the rest of their working lives suffering from repeated unemployment, low skills and poor job prospects.

When young people don’t get the chance to work, we all bear the cost.”

Beth Whittle is a 23-year-old University College London graduate from Wigan who gained a first class honours degree in English.

She graduated last summer and for the last six months has worked full-time in a cafe. She is yet to secure graduate employment.

Beth said that she has found adjusting to a new way of life over the last 12 months difficult.

She said: “When I got a place at university on A-level results day, when I quit my Saturday job as a waitress, and when I was packing my things to move to London, I certainly didn’t see myself going back to live in the same single bedroom.”

“I haven’t heard back from any of the job applications I’ve sent which would have used skills from my university course.

“It’s disheartening to think I’m doing jobs I was qualified to do at 16.”

She has been taking evening classes in creative writing and will begin a Masters in English at Oxford University this September.

Stephen Hutson, 23, is an English graduate from the University of Hull.

He got a 2:1 last summer and has been unable to gain graduate employment in the last 12 months. He has found it a very unsettling time.

He said: “You can feel a bit low now and again because you put three years into a degree, and all that money.

“The only work I’ve been able to get is bar work, it’s demoralising.”

However he is optimistic about the future and sees this period as an opportunity to re-assess his options.

He said: “I’m just going to keep looking for opportunities and see where they take me.”

He is undertaking charity work rehabilitating repeat offenders on short-term prison sentences.

So what’s being done?

In the budget, George Osborne announced that 100,000 work experience placements would be made available to young people in an attempt to tackle the problem in Britain.

The government also launched a new £60million initiative last month aimed at supporting youth employment.

It promises to provide support systems for vulnerable young unemployed people, including early access to work programmes and work experience placements.

A £10million Innovation Fund will provide voluntary and community sector funding to help disadvantaged people, particularly those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) or who are at risk of becoming NEET.

Dr Ben-Galim argues that the government is sending out mixed messages to young people by investing in such schemes whilst simultaneously raising tuition fees and abolishing EMA payments.

She said: “High levels of youth unemployment have been one of the triggers for the social and economic unrest we are witnessing in other countries.

“Whilst that may seem a way off, it might not be.”

The UK has demonstrated its anger at cuts to local services and jobs at events staged across the country, and also at a nation-wide TUC March Against the Cuts rally in London earlier this year.

Time will tell how the graduate landscape will pan out, but it looks unlikely that people will be taking to the streets just yet.

In terms of unrest at my workplace, the most rebellious thing I did was make that woman wait ten minutes for her bill. Revolutionary stuff.

A selection of comments from Cosmopolitan’s forum, ‘Career and Cash’


Is anyone else having trouble finding a job that is related to their degree?


I’m looking everywhere for a job using my French degree, in the North West. Nothing exists as far as I can tell


I’m in my very late 20s and I graduated with an English/spanish degree 2 years ago, I  tried teaching but it didn’t work out for me, much to my distress so it’s ‘back to the drawing board’ for me.


I think it’s very naive for anyone to expect that a degree will ensure them a job.


Yes the job market is pretty tough. And yes some graduates will have to lower their expectation in terms of salary to get their first job. But I really don’t think it’s as bad as some people make out. Its not like there are no jobs. It’s just a matter of perseverance IMO.


You make your own luck and opportunities, nothing is handed to you on a plate, no matter how brilliant your degree.


I don’t regret going to uni, but I do regret my subject choice. I studied art because I was good at it in school and because I enjoyed it, with no realistic thoughts about a future career. I now wish I’d studied something that would have opened up more opportunities.

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