Tales from a Graduate: Suited and Booted and Nowhere to Work

When the collapse of Northern Rock in September 2007 triggered a bank run and a credit crunch on a scale not seen since the gloomy days of the Great Depression I was safely hidden within the sanctuary of academia, convinced that the rest of my undergraduate studies would see me safely ride out the global downturn in its entirety. Or so I thought.

In the end hindsight tells us that the Northern Rock debacle, which occurred now nearly 5 years ago, was only the start of a global downturn that has recently been predicted to go on until 2019 as households, corporates and nation states continue the long and painful process of deleveraging their balance sheets.

Certainly a year after Northern Rock hit our screens in autumn 2007 Lehman Brothers, which at the time was the third largest investment bank in the world and one that had financial liabilities that spanned the globe, collapsed and turned what was a more localised credit crunch into the full blown global recession that so ruinously corrupted the books of individuals, banks and governments across the world.

And with governments and central banks socialising the private losses in order to prop up the entire global banking system and to keep credit flowing, what started as a private funding crisis, quickly turned into a crippling sovereign debt crisis as manifested so disturbingly in the U.S. and Europe.
With the ECB holding interest levels so low and offering cheap credit in the early 2000s, the Frankfurt bank essentially facilitated the boom years in the PIGS by allowing profligate spending both by privates and governments. The aftermath has seen a post-crisis hangover that has governments crippled by deleterious levels of debt which more recently has led to Greece, Ireland and Portugal all receiving massive bailouts. However these are bailouts with the strictest of terms, reducing these proud states into nothing more that protectorates and vassal states.

Indeed the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission are squatting square above Merrion Street, deeply scrutinising all economic policies and in every sense Ireland has been robbed of its sovereignty. Up north David Cameron et al. have ensured that Sammy Wilson has had the hard task of dealing with a hugely limited budget in comparison to those in the past, a reality which has had deeply painful effects on the local public sector, schools and commensurate knock on effects to the private sector.

Thus having surveyed in brief the financial crisis to date as I see it I believe this is where I come in and I can say whole heartedly that having emerged from the sanctuary of academia that I have been given the rudest of awakenings. Certainly the reality of the cut backs as implemented across the sectors has ensured that my quest for a job has been hugely challenging as I find myself as one among hundreds vying for a single place.

To date I have had a number of interviews in Belfast and further afield all of which have been unsuccessful, something that many young and highly qualified people across Ireland can relate to and moreover something that prompted me to compose the illustration and this written accompaniment. Certainly I believe this is a pressing issue that could do with constructive discussion in the open air.

Indeed the young graduate generation from across the island of Ireland has unquestionably been one of the primary victims of the global financial crisis confronted with a job market like no other. Whilst Ireland has a skilled and highly capable generation of young people, arguably Ireland’s greatest natural resource, suited and booted and very much ready for work, there just simply aren’t the jobs out there; a sad and deeply challenging situation which has pushed countless to seek a life beyond these shores, often not by choice and something that I can testify to.

Perhaps my choice of terminology for the current situation may sound over the top, but with 1,000 young people leaving the Republic a week and reports that by April 2012 100,000 will have left, the epithet demographic cleansing certainly isn’t out of place. This is an issue that have been dealt with explicitly down south by Finance Minister Noonan and the like but the issue up here in the north has received nowhere near as equitable an exposure.

I’m not saying that our servants up at Stormont aren’t doing a decent job up at Stormont, on the contrary I would be full of praise for their constant efforts and salutary results which have seen jobs schemes for jobless graduates as well as major corporations such as Herbert Smith, Allen and Overy, NYE Euronext and most recently the Chicago Mercantile Exchange set up operations in our province and ready to soak up an deeply oversaturated graduate market.

However I do believe that while these are positive efforts there is somewhat of a looming demographic crisis amongst our young graduates who are being churned out at a level of supply that far outstrips demand. As such this needs more attention and I am keen to hear what slugger can say on the matter.

  • It’s worth noting that a direct consequence of forced later retirements is that fewer jobs are available for younger people. Of course, JSA is far cheaper than State Pension, but it’s still hopeless for getting young people good jobs.

  • The truth is that the agreed solution of the NI Executive is to lower corporation tax in an attempt to repeat the economic miracle experienced by the Republic. I wonder what flaws there might be in that plan. Luxembourg on the Lagan is not a sustainable economic model that will deliver for the majority of the population.

    For all the talk of reorienting the economy towards the private sector, the reality is that most of the companies pointed out as the type we need are here only because they are getting subsidies from the state in various forms. We’d be better spending the money to create and support indigenous, sustainable employment instead of using it

    I also wonder reading this if people who aren’t graduates don’t count towards the unemployment or emigration statistics. Or perhaps they simply don’t matter.

  • DT123

    The number of university places needs to be reduced .Too many people with very poor academic ability are being given degrees,thus greatly devaluing the qualifications.

    What an ever more automated society does with these people instead ,I don’t know.The problem is you have a generation of young people who have no intention of doing any “physical work”,yet there are no degree level jobs for them.

  • I was waiting for the too many graduates line to come out. I guess terms like the knowledge economy don’t matter to some people. Including, of course, any government(s) that cut things like compulsory languages and fail to evolve a proper strategy for teaching science and technology. But DT123 is going to get his wish from the new fees regime introduced by the ConDems.

  • derrydave

    ‘The same as it ever’ was I’m afraid for the North.

    I left the North to go to University in England the early 90’s, when the only viable way of staying at home seemed to be the civil service. In the 10 years I was away I had never considered a return as a possibility, despite now having a degree, a professional qualification, and a strong CV. After 10 years I did decide to return (due to personal circumstances), however was quite dismayed to find that the possibilities in the North (and in the North West in particular) were almost non-existant – in terms of high-quality highly-paid professional positions. Over the border was a completely different story however and so it’s in that direction that life took me.

    There’s been a sea-change in life in the South as people had gotten used to their kids graduating and finding well-paid jobs at home with fantastic career opportunities. This has now all gone – hence the shock to the system that is the return to emigration. However did we ever even get to this stage in the North ? Did we ever get to the point where we expected our kids to be able to graduate, stay at home, and move into good well-paid positions with great prospects ??? I certainly never felt this prospect was ever realistic in the North. This is why I believe the coverage of emigration in the South is so much more pronounced than that in the North.

    Excellent topic for a thread. The above is only my personal perspective and so I am open to correction – however would be interested in hearing peoples own experiences and perspectives on what is a massive societal issue. I certainly would love to eventually settle down and live back in the North (well maybe 6 months in the North, 6 months in Spain 🙂 ), however sadly I very much doubt that this will ever be a possibility.

  • Mick Fealty


    Where’s the glut of physical labour jobs? In construction people of my age are surviving well, because they’ve built up a lifetime of contacts and are in demand amongst those (many) private individuals who have money. But it wasn’t like that for them in the early eighties when they had to ship out to Germany and Holland.

    On topic, I think there may be some default changes on the way. The differential in student fees between here and Britain should increase competition for uni places in NI, and lower the numbers entering higher education overall. Not necessarily a bad thing, given Brians point about over saturation.

    But the south has invested heavily and at scale in technological education over a thirty year period. We have largely paid lip service to that.

    Derry Dave is right. In NI public sector work has always sucked in the majority of graduates, even during what passed as a boom for us. The only trade that continues to work with a grim smile on its face are the big accountancy firms.

  • The Raven

    A few years ago, I was on a plane, and sitting next to a young cub from “down the country.” He worked for Quinn’s insurance operation.

    The conversation, such as it was, was one way, mostly from him, about the moolah he was making in bonuses, how it paid for his new Subaru, how they’d paid for his holiday, and so on. It was like a mini version of Loadsamoney from Belleek.

    What need have I for a degree, he said, when there’s thousands to be made from what I do?

    I have reflected many times on that conversation since. He can’t have been more than 22 or 23. I wonder what became of him?

  • claudius

    I have a small business and have been affected by the downturn. I have managed to keep a number of employees in full time work but I don’t take a wage (live off my wife’s salary). I have never led an affluent lifestyle, drive a 10 year old car and live in a normal 3 bed semi.
    Now I need to increase sales but can’t afford the commitment to the salary of a full time employee. So I placed adverts for commission based salespeople. The commission was set quite high to compensate for being almost self employed. Now maybe naively I thought there would be a glut of people wanting to apply. But no. I’ve had people demanding £500 pw before they’ll do any sales plus commission on top of this, people wanting a company car etc. Virtually no graduates have applied. So, are employees expectations still too high? Is there still a boom mentality. Maybe I should advertise it as an intern-ship rather than a job!

  • DT123


    If these people were doing engineering and science and languages then fair enough.However there are far too many people with two poor A levels going off to do degrees which are leading them nowhere.


    I know there are no physical labour jobs either,however the instruction of trades is in a terrible situation at the minute ,due to a lack of apprenticeships and the crippling insurance placed on taking on trainees.

    At the end of the day ,who is going to be more employable,a qualified chef or plumber or someone with a pass in media studies?

  • The Raven,

    I was watching the documentary Bouncers, in Newport in Wales, last week. One of them was the sort of guy you are talking about. He had been an insurance underwriter with3 or 4 cars and two houses. He’s now working 2 minimum wage jobs. I hope the guy you met is doing better.


    So we are talking about the wrong type of graduates rather than too many then?

    Part of the reason there are both so few apprentices and so many graduates is because of the deliberate policy of deindustrialisation pursued during the 1980s. If there are no industries to take young people, then having them continue into higher education was the easiest way of massaging the unemployment figures. And it remains so. Except now with the increased fees and student loans, there is a whole heap more cash to be made for finance capital thanks to its buddies in the government.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, I dont think Brian has media studies in mind. And I wholeheartedly agree on your point about the instruction of trades. But what both sets of youngsters are suffering is an effective lock out.

  • DT123

    Wether they are the “wrong type” or there are “too many ” is irrelevent .The student scraping into media studies ,is never going to be capable of studying engineering or languages anyway.

    With the repayments not kicking in untill well over £20 K ,I can see the majority of those with “poor” degrees ,never having to repay at all ,or a minimal amount at best.So wether the financial industry makes big money or not,I don’t know.

    The country and indeed the World has now realised it cannot afford to pay high wages and pensions to vast numbers of public workers.Combine this with the Industrial /private sector needing fewer and fewer people,and it is hard to see from where the soloution will come from. I fear economically ,there may never be a return to the lifestyles people have enjoyed over the last 20 or 30 years.

  • Catherine Couvert

    “I fear economically ,there may never be a return to the lifestyles people have enjoyed over the last 20 or 30 years.”
    Fair enough, we can live with that but even in a recession we should not be defeatist about high numbers of long term unemployed (who then get branded as scroungers), young graduates who feel they have wasted their time, young people without qualifications who have even less chance of finding jobs because they are competing with graduates, people emigrating not because they want to but because they have to, or with a climate where immigrants end up being blamed for unemployment.
    Brian has all my sympathy and is to be commended for a very good thread.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I do feel for graduates stuck in this situation, it seems to have gotten a lot worse than it was when I graduated ten years ago (where I remember feeling like I was staring at certain doom as the IT industry collapsed under the weight of the dot-com bust). But outside of engineering, there are simply more graduates than there are vacancies at that level which can be filled. The white collar professional sector of the economy hasn’t grown at the rate which can support this.

    In the legal profession for example, even the people who come top of the food chain with their examinations and qualifications have many years of scratching around for work ahead of them. Something similar applies to accountancy. If you’re looking to go into teaching in this country, you’re pretty much screwed by the demographics.

  • BluesJazz

    The unemployment rate is skewed much more than the 1980’s. The ‘unemployment’ rate then was 18%. But the economic inactivity rate (among working age) was similar around 30%.
    The difference now is higher rates of Incapacity Benefit(IB) and DLA. But also the biggest racket of all.
    ‘Single’ Mothers get benefits and Housing Benefit (up to £500 a month) then the ‘boyfriend/father moves in. It’s a doddle.
    Aside from that , if you’re “single”, childless and living with parents-welcome to the rest of your life.
    Get a girl pregnant, anyone will do, claim you’re depressed, and you hit the jackpot of housing benefit and DLA. That’s big money.
    Otherwise, become an MLA. That’s big money.
    The other option is to emigrate, but Oz is full up so Canada it is. Cheap labour and -30 nine months of the year. The scenery is nice.

  • Reader

    Catherine Couvert: young graduates who feel they have wasted their time, young people without qualifications who have even less chance of finding jobs because they are competing with graduates…
    We may come to find that the need to get on the education/career ladder has done as much social and economic damage as the house price boom and the need to get on the housing ladder – in both cases,young people were borrowing vast sums just to get a grip on the future.
    But the real waste is that people with no real inclination for university education put themselves into debt for one just to give them a tick in the box in a job application. And many of the jobs don’t actually need degrees.