Why Graduating From University Isn't Enough To Get You A Job Any More

Earn a university degree and get a job. This formula has worked with relative success for over 50 years. But increasingly in many fields today the formula is no longer working.

Student picture from Shutterstock

With nearly twice as many full-time students (approximately 1.2 million) enrolled in university study as there were in 1996, competition for jobs is at an all-time high. This competition seems to be manifesting itself in credential inflation — the value of academic credentials decreases over time, along with the expected advantage given a degree holder in the job market.

What's behind this trend?

Undergraduate programs are booming nationwide for a number of reasons, including higher future earning potential and higher expectations for all levels of jobs. Jobs that high school graduates used to fill are being reserved for university graduates.

According to the Talent Equation study, there has been a 10% increase in customer service, sales and management workers possessing an undergraduate education in just five years.

Employers report that they want degree holders because of the tight labour market and the evolution of their work. Economics researchers found that as universities expand the number of enrolled students, the average ability and wage of university graduates decreases. Yes, salaries suffer as more people graduate.

Essentially, it is the supply and demand of labour within free markets that drive this. Yet universities continue to increase enrolments, with particular emphasis on international students, aiming to equip learners with the skills and experience to succeed and compete on a worldwide scale despite the current economic climate.

Global competition in business has also driven the demand for higher education. Within almost all industries, there is a shift to employ university graduates. This has become the norm for most professional jobs.

Being competitive in the job market

Despite the demand for workers who hold a university degree, 32% of graduates across all fields of study did not find full-time employment within four months of completing their degree in 2014. This chart demonstrates the severity of the downward shift of approximately 16% in employment of university degree holders over the past 14 years.

Employment data from Graduate Careers Australia surveys

With some undergraduate courses having up to two-thirds of their university graduates unable to find a job, students are seeking other ways to secure a job. These include postgraduate education.

Today, longer commitments to formal education programs (Masters/Doctorate degrees) are often required for jobs across all sectors. While most jobs require continual learning experiences to stay up to date with the latest developments, many jobs now demand advanced degrees. This includes those related to research (lecturer, statistician, economist), innovation (petroleum engineer, physicist), specialisation (counsellors, social workers) and administration (consultant, investment banker, school principal).

Overall, 61.2% of all postgraduates indicate that their advanced degree was either required or at least important. Postgraduate education is structured to enhance one's depth of knowledge and ability to apply skills in new and creative ways not always attainable through an undergraduate course alone. Postgraduate degrees are what bachelor degrees represented a generation ago — an upgrade from the status quo.

Attaining a specialisation certification, or expertise, is in some cases also required. Examples include a teacher with a Certificate of Gifted Education, a midwife who has advanced training in neonatal health, or a computer programmer who can code in multiple languages. From earning advanced degrees to job acquisition and career advancement, further education is central to achievement, more so than ever before.

Getting an undergraduate degree today shows you have a foundation of knowledge and skill. However, employers are increasingly seeking those with postgraduate qualifications as proof of their ability to think, analyse, solve problems, communicate effectively and improve outcomes.

This shift has occurred in about one generation; so what might the future hold for education? What will be required for getting a job in ten years' time?The Conversation

Evan Ortlieb is Course Leader & Senior Lecturer at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


    Start applying for internships the first year because you won't find one until the second year. Once your 3-4+ years are up you will have real experience that employers are looking for.

    I did a year then dropped out, started working at Woollies then got into an IT traineeship. Payed a decent wage because I had a lot extra responsibilities. Good jump start to career.

      I did the same thing. do not regret it at all. the real key is to find an organisation in IT that will let you grow. get a few technical certifications and 3+ years of experience and nobody could care less if you have a degree

    get a job when you 14 and 9 months...

    simple as that:
    work for the local green grocer, work for Kmart or Maccas or Coles

    do something

    Here's one question I have with these statistics - as the 'percentages of graduates employed within 4 months' is dropping over the years, how many different and varied degrees are being added to the Tertiary curriculum.

    For example, I graduated with a BA (Professional Major in Multimedia) in 2006. That degree didn't exist in 2003, so all of the graduates who graduated with me and were not immediately employed would contribute to this statistic, but the parameters are no longer the same due to the growth in number of degrees available.

    The general gist is this: are the number of graduates being employed increasing slowly year-by-year while the number of degrees AND number of graduates is increasing way too quickly?

    Recently seen a few "Graduate" positions that required 2-3 years' experience. What's up with that?

    Not sure why the article suggests it's a recent phenomenon, it has been like that for the last 20 years.

    I've lost count of the number of graduates I've met doing casual day to day jobs.

    Everyone wants experience and proof of work capability, not just flappy bits of paper.

      last 20 years? I seriously doubt it. 20 years ago the IT industry was fledgling and there plenty of opportunities. These days, it's very sporadic. I know quite a few people who have shifted careers out of IT.
      The writing is almost certainly on the wall. Manufacturing has all but disappeared, IT is being outsourced overseas... Even Abbott was going to deny Australians the right to even tender on $20bn of submarine work.
      Things are not positive for Australia's workforce in 20 years time unless something drastic happens. Not even the disappearance of baby boomers will offset the crisis.

        FYI, the IT industry in Australia has been running for more than 40 years. The only difference today is the tech.

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