Over the summer, up and down the country, students donned caps and gowns to take part in their graduation ceremonies. Proud parents, an academic title and the chance to shake the vice chancellor’s hand: what more could students want from university?
But while the novelty of finishing their courses dwindles and the summer draws on, many graduates are looking to put their new skills to good use by attempting to navigate their way through the maze of the job market.
Across the board, there are fewer relevant skilled jobs available for graduates, with the IT industry offering no exception to the rule. According to research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released in March, 19 per cent of recent graduates are unemployed, and of those who have found employment, one in three is in a lower-skilled job.
In the IT world, the job situation also appears bleak. This year alone, vendors HP and Nokia axed 37,000 jobs between them, while some smaller VARs have closed their doors for good.
However, despite the seemingly gloomy outlook, graduate channel opportunities have sprung up, with vendors, distributors and resellers alike offering the chance to get that all-important foot in the door.
Mimecast, VAR Softcat, distributor VIP Computers and open source vendor Nexenta are just some of the channel firms offering training schemes for graduates with the opportunity to progress higher up the ranks.
Some 80 per cent of Softcat’s employees started off at graduate level, with the company’s recruitment scheme seeing about 100 university leavers being hired per year.
Shelly Ferrigno, human resources and recruitment manager at Softcat, believes candidates who apply for roles straight after university can often bring a fresh approach to a company.
She said: “On the sales side of things, we have always recruited at graduate level. Graduates offer fresh ideas as well as a variety of skills and personalities.
“We can mould them to how we like to work.”
Taking a chance on entry-level recruits who need extensive training can in some cases be a long-term investment, and one which in the tough economic climate can prove costly for companies that need results instantly.
Although a return on the investment in graduates can take a while to materialise, Ferrigno argued that there are financial benefits to hiring junior sales staff during a recession.
“We continue to recruit sales staff during the recession because we think that if they can sell now [in the tough economy], they are going to be amazing when things improve,” she said.
“We need to invest in them for the future.”
Worth the cost
And it is not just the revenue graduates can create that is attractive for some companies. Choosing more junior recruits can often save firms crucial expenditure in terms of salaries.
“The pay we offer graduates [in sales] is basic, but the commission is amazing. The problem with hiring directly from the industry is that the basic salary employees want is just too high,” continued Ferrigno.
According to ONS figures, graduate pay on the whole is better than that of non-graduates, with each earning on average £15.18 and £8.92 per hour respectively. And with the unemployment figures standing at 19 per cent for those who have graduated in the past two years, the competition can be fierce.
Although graduates can find looking for work difficult, for recruiters in the channel, it can be equally hard to find the right candidates due to the sheer number of people applying for roles.
Alan Kenny, UK general manager at Mimecast, said the battle for jobs makes finding the right junior workers difficult.
“There is a lot of noise in the market, with candidates trying to stand out,” he added.
“But graduates come in with the understanding that it is a tough market, and if you get the right ones, they tend to have two common traits: they are ambitious and impatient and they want to be super successful straight away.
“If you channel their impatience, you unearth the main benefit of hiring graduates.”
According to research by industry body CompTIA, the top skills that employers in IT look for in job candidates across all roles are experience, accomplishments and technical skills.
However, these are some of the very things that graduates lack, having just left a course of study, not necessarily with an abundance of industry experience.
Despite this, having the right attitude and personality can stand for a lot during the selection process, and academic qualifications are not necessarily a pre-requisite for junior roles within the channel.
Brett Edgecombe, managing director of 101 Data Solutions, believes that degrees alone do not make candidates stand out.
“There are people out there who have not done a degree course who are very clever and switched on and who learn very fast. Sometimes graduates are not very personable,” he said.
“Neither work experience nor background is that important for junior roles, it is all about the individual and how good they are at learning and getting on with the task in hand.”
While a winning personality can often triumph over a lack of experience in junior sales roles or graduate schemes, it is another story when it comes to the recruitment of entry-level technical roles.
For distributor VIP Computers, hiring sales and clerical roles from graduate level is the norm, and even school leavers have been signed up for these types of position. However, this is not the case when it comes to technical staff, according to Dave Stevinson, the company’s sales director.
“For technology roles, our employees need vocational training and specific experience with software which is very complex. It is very hard to learn these sorts of things in university or at college,” he said.
“Most of our technology staff have spent four or five years building up a pedigree before they come to us.”
The apparent lack of opportunities at entry level for those aiming to pursue a technical career in the channel is not the only worry, with the industry branded as “incestuous” by Simon Brealy, business manager at Channel Recruitment Solutions (CRS).
“The industry is not where it needs to be in terms of recruitment,” he said.
“It is a very incestuous market; at CRS we see where people are moving to and from more than most do. It is the most incestuous industry I have ever worked in. It is moving away from that slowly, but there is always more that can be done.”
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