Graduate employment is more than a degree and the employment situation is both severe and complex. With young people more focused and guided to attain higher education degrees without placing a context on employability, the situation is increasingly becoming more dire. Rising graduate numbers at higher education levels, gender parity challenges in the MENA region, unclear employment expectations and generational gaps between youth and employers worsen work issues for the unprecedented future. This article will unwrap the realisation that stakeholders such as educators, employers and parents are failing students by not providing adequate career readiness before making post-secondary decisions.
Increased education provisions for youth should be celebrated, and the impressive initiatives that create increased levels of equitable education must continue. However, when the rewards for achieving higher education degrees do not provide increased work opportunities for men and women, all stakeholders should hear alarm bells with great concern. For example, researchers Assad et al., (2020) identified that employment for women across the MENA region ranges at just 20% participation compared to countries across Europe, North America, and Eastern Asia. Although unemployment challenges are not a new concept, and university graduates continue to face them, more efforts in raising awareness are unheard of in most secondary education institutions. However, when governments promote knowledge economies, initiatives that protect and support future work for both genders must be considered more closely. Moreover, initiatives promoting STEM subjects for females at the K-12 education levels assume that future employment would be an equitable and attractive experience for female graduates. However, as the research indicates, female employees' conflicts between ages and life stages make their career destinations a choice between a career or managing the social expectations of their future. For example, Assad et al., (2020) identified that educated, married women prefer working in the public system because of better maternity conditions and shorter working hours. However, the limited employment opportunities in the public sphere leave females waiting in long unemployment pools or forcing them to take lower wages or into underpaid jobs that do not equate to the higher education degrees they invested their time and money in. The West criticizes the MENA region for having patriarchal regulations limiting women to strive as high as their female peers across the globe; however, the education initiatives in the region tell a different story about the vision for females in the workplace, or do they? For example, educators promote equitable education for both genders through K-12 and even at university levels. Still, they do not consider the aftermath of employment woes that highly educated women will face after they graduate, nor do educators make young girls aware of the choices that they may face in their future. More emphasis must be placed on the challenges of gender parity for work and the impacts that failing career readiness for youth continues to create. It cannot go unspoken that the realities of social mobility influence career choices, and young girls continue to have to make choices that encourage them towards one direction over another when considering their future careers (Assad et al., 2020; Hossain et al., 2019).
On the flip side of education, the dilemma continues with governments and employers criticising higher education institutions for not producing well-prepared graduates for employment and labour market demands (Handley, 2017). However, research shows that work readiness is more complex and often lies at a future employer's discretion. Skillsets and developing work requirements still need to be clarified for university graduates, leaving them ill-prepared for the expectations ahead of their next steps. In addition, secondary institutions' current social media trends promoting their students' acceptance to high-ranking universities promote the concept that a degree equates to a successful career, which research continues to debate (Soon et al., 2019). Therefore, better efforts must be seen on all fronts for a graduate student to gain career confidence and awareness of work opportunities. I do not propose that the responsibility should lay in the hands of the institution, but rather that governments, educators, and higher education institutions must collaborate and understand the bigger picture that bridges the gap between education and the world of work. In my previous article discussing graduate employment, I discussed the complexities of employability (Vitoratos, 2023). My experiences as a career practitioner often find me listening to stories toasting the 'wing-it' journey of finding a current career. However, the celebration is not helpful when a minimum of three years of education costing over $45,000 for a potentially unemployable degree should not be the aspiration. Let's call a spade-a-spade and recognise that youth underemployment and unemployment means that graduates' skills are under-utilised and underpaid. At the same time, government social systems continue to be financially over-exerted to support youth work challenges alongside the aging populations globally (González et al., 2016). I equally assert that underemployment assumes that the cost of educating a young person is under-appreciated. The increased financial pressures put on families to educate their children at often over-priced institutions equally over-promise parents about the work opportunities that lay in their children's horizons. The unclear employment opportunities for graduates remain a rising issue that remains unspoken about by career counsellors, educators, and school leaders at the secondary level and into higher education. All stakeholders are equally responsible, but the current trends under-rate career discussions that do not promote knowledge economies without adequate career guidance before young people make their career choices.
As I begin to conclude this article, it remains to be spoken about the rising challenges I experience when talking to millennials about their career aspirations and current career challenges. Firstly, the desire to work with purpose and work-life balance remains high on their radars. Millennials describe their conflict with finding work when they realize that their degree did not fulfill the rewards of competitive employment that they expected to receive. Research on the topic identified that the degree has become a snippet of getting a job. For example, employers describe the ideal employee as an individual who is "technically proficient and has the non-tech skills" that can be applied in context in the workplace (Jackson, 2016). Furthermore, the concept of employability through secondary schooling rarely dabbles in such discussions. After all, the heaviness of the conversation of unpreparedness for work dims the rays of sunshine that educational institutions use to promote high-ranking acceptances to university institutions. If my message seems harsh, my intention was not to be, or was it? Graduate employment results from all stakeholders' demand for knowledge and education, including parents. However, as an educator, I ponder on the potential for intentional education choices that support a knowledge economy, promote future employability's importance, and respect the time and money invested in educating young people.
The ongoing challenges for graduate employment will not disappear; the rising global youth unemployment statistics affirm this fact. However, on the flip side, increasing the number of university graduates further impacts the severity of the issue. This article aimed to explore the complexities of the challenging employment situation for graduates. While governments celebrate knowledge economy milestones, students face gender-work parity challenges, underemployment and misguided higher education aspirations that leave them struggling for work and professional identities. It is essential from the research findings that more work is needed when guiding young people for future careers. Stakeholders across the spectrum must take accountability for their ill-preparedness for future jobs. The focus on education can no longer hover on higher education aspirations that promote profit-making institutions at all levels but include the social complications that young people across the MENA region and the globe as young people aspire to work outside of their home countries. Complex employment futures require enhanced career conversations across the K-12 system before young people are expected to make post-secondary education decisions that potentially lead them to the lower end of the salary spectrum after an intensive and competitive higher education journey. I aspired to highlight the importance of career guidance by focusing on issues rarely spoken about but are felt across households, societies, and communities globally.
Assaad, R., Hendy, R., Lassassi, M., & Yassin, S. (2020). Explaining the MENA paradox: Rising educational attainment yet stagnant female labor force participation. Demographic Research, 43, 817–850. https://doi.org/10.4054/demres.2020.43.28
González-Romá, V., Gamboa, J. P., & Peiró, J. M. (2016). University graduates’ employability, employment status, and job quality. Journal of Career Development, 45(2), 132–149. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894845316671607
Handley, K. (2017). Anticipatory Socialization and the Construction of the Employable Graduate: A Critical analysis of Employers’ graduate Careers websites. Work, Employment & Society, 32(2), 239–256. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017016686031
Henstra, D., & McGowan, R. A. (2016). Millenials and public service: An exploratory analysis of graduate student career motivations and expectations. Public Administration Quarterly, 40(3). https://www.jstor.org/stable/24772880
Hossain, M. M., Alam, M., Alamgir, M., & Salat, A. (2019). Factors affecting business graduates’ employability– empirical evidence using partial least squares (PLS). https://www.emerald.com/insight/0040-0912.htm
Jackson, D. (2016). Developing pre-professional identity in undergraduates through work-integrated learning. Higher Education, 74(5), 833–853. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0080-2
Vitoratos, M. (n.d.). Why are university graduates struggling to find work? www.linkedin.com. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-university-graduates-struggling-find-work-maria-vitoratos-/?trackingId=odyVfg3aT5OC3JnkKbpUQQ%3D%3D