graduate looking for job
Whilst your degree should be a massive advantage when job hunting, it’s becoming increasingly common for candidates to be left searching for graduate jobs for a few weeks or months after graduating. thegraduaterecruitment

Nicholas Gilly loved his time at University – but his career has not developed in the way he expected.

He graduated from the University of York in June last year, with a degree in psychology. However, he had dreams of a career drastically different to his field of study.

"I was born in London but my parents grew up in Mexico," he explains.

"So, I grew up cooking and eating a lot of different kinds of foods - I went to a lot of Mexican restaurants!"

And that was how Nicholas' ambition to become a chef began. Despite this, he chose to study psychology at University, a discipline he found intriguing.

"I really enjoyed my psychology course but I decided that I didn't want to pursue it further after University, but instead go into the food industry".

However, breaking into the culinary sector is no easy task. Although jobs in this field are on the rise, having increased in three consecutive years, it is an extremely competitive market.

Becoming a professional chef can take anywhere from a few years to over a decade - depending on factors like education, training, and hands-on experience.

Even a young aspirational chef with a university degree can find it difficult to get a job after graduating.

Every year in the UK, an average of 900,000 undergraduate students leave university with a degree.

For many of them, higher education represented the best route into full-time work after their studies – after all, the first thing employers look for is a degree, right?

Not anymore, the research suggests.

According to a study from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), the proportion of companies requiring at least a 2:1 qualification from graduates fell below 50 per cent for the first time last year.

Plus, the number of firms that don't have a minimum requirement is rising. New data from LinkedIn shows a 90 per cent increase in the share of UK job postings that do not require a university degree at all.

The declining value of a degree is beginning to encourage a rising number of young people to consider alternatives to attending university – only two-thirds of young people now rate a university education as important, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos for the Sutton Trust.

The most notable consequence of changing attitudes towards university education is that an increasing number of graduates are struggling to find a job after completing their studies, with their newly obtained degrees no longer a guarantee of an employment offer.

New figures suggest less than half of students at some English universities can expect to find work or further study shortly after graduation.

Graduates of Birkbeck College in London (31.6 per cent), the University of Bedfordshire (33.5 per cent) and London Metropolitan University (39.8 per cent) were among the least likely to progress into employment or further study, according to data obtained by the Office For Students (OfS).

The clear winners in the study were Imperial College (91.7 per cent), Oxford (87.7 per cent) and Cambridge (87.4 per cent) which appear to offer students the best route to full-time work or further study post-graduation.

The report also found significant differences depending on what graduates were studying at universities.

The data suggests almost all medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find employment or further study, but the rates dip to half or below in six subjects.

Graduates of sociology, social policy and anthropology agriculture, food and related studies and business and management are among those less likely to progress, the data suggests.

Psychology, media, journalism and communications, and sport and exercise science graduates also had low progression rates.

Ecole Ducasse Paris School Campus
École Ducasse was founded in 1999 by Alain Ducasse, who with 34 restaurants, 20 Michelin stars is the most influential and decorated chef in the world. BOEGLY + GRAZIA

However, Nicholas Gilly managed to find a solution outside of the UK job market.

He seized an opportunity to move to Paris immediately after his degree, to continue his studies in Paris, at École Ducasse, a prestigious culinary school.

Gilly has almost finished a nine-month culinary arts diploma in the heart of Paris, an experience he describes as "fascinating"

"Every few weeks focuses on a different module, right now I'm studying natural cuisines."

For many, the idea of moving abroad would be daunting, particularly straight after finishing University.

Many post-graduates opt to move back in with their parents, but Gilly prefers to take a leap out of his comfort zone.

"I didn't know anyone when I moved to Paris but I have made a really good group of friends from all around the world because it's an international course. I've learned a lot about different cultures, tastes and interests. It was daunting at first moving abroad but I've really enjoyed it."

Gilly has also managed to secure himself an internship after he's completed his course - as a chef at a restaurant called Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

He plans to work there for three months before moving back to London, with valuable experience under his belt.

His time in Paris, he suggests, will serve him well when he continues his job search in the UK.

"I've learnt important traits like resilience, thinking on your feet, and not being afraid to make mistakes - these are all crucial characteristics for a chef".

Although Gilly managed to secure a work experience placement, for many young people, the struggle to find internships has been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Between 2019 and 21, university students had to complete large parts of their degrees online; they had limited opportunities to participate in work experience or internships due to the lockdown restrictions imposed in the UK.

Lockdown laws and limits on large-group gatherings led to "virtual teaching". It usually involved a lecturer reading their PowerPoint slides through the medium of Zoom or Microsoft Teams - now familiar platforms to most work-from-homers – while up to 100 students sat listening at their desks, or even their beds, as they attempted to take notes.

Without real-life interaction, the process was disengaging and unstimulating for both lecturer and student, with most questions posed by lecturers into the virtual abyss greeted by universal silence.

Dean Blackburn, who teaches Political History at Nottingham University believes the progress of students was hampered, with a clear drop-off in the quality of submitted work.

"Online teaching meant students lost the reward and validation incentive that real-life interaction offers, as well as the collective spirit of classroom learning," he says.

Prospects, a job-hunting company for graduates, surveyed more than 7,000 students to discover how the pandemic affected their career decisions and experiences.

When asked about how prepared they were for getting a job or apprenticeship, nearly half (45 per cent) of university students said they felt unprepared – more so than college/sixth form students (36 per cent).

The majority (96 per cent) of respondents said they faced barriers when looking for jobs or apprenticeships.

University students said that having the required work experience was their biggest barrier, followed by a lack of opportunities to apply for and have the necessary skills.

Prospects' recent internship report showed that just 17 per cent of students had undertaken work experience in 2021.

The pandemic has also left students feeling uncertain about what to do after education. More than a third (38 per cent) of university students said they were uncertain about their plans - more so than college students (28 per cent). For university students, the cancellation or postponement of plans due to restrictions on travel featured heavily.

For a student who aims to become a chef, gaining experience in a kitchen can be incredibly difficult - particularly with the added challenges presented by COVID lockdowns.

Gilly, though, completed an internship during his studies at a Michelin-star Mexican restaurant in London.

He used to go there with his family regularly, so decided to email and ask about doing an unpaid internship there. However, he received no response.

Rather than give up, Gilly describes how "he went to the restaurant in person and communicated his interest and passion to the head chef".

"Chefs and people in restaurants aren't particularly likely to respond to emails," he explains.

Another possibility is moving overseas. International education is on the rise, and for good reason: research has shown that students who study abroad have better career prospects and are more socially aware.

Studying and working abroad has several attractive advantages.

It gives you the chance to experience a new culture, including everything from the language to the food.

And if you're struggling to find work in the UK, expanding your search to international roles makes it exponentially more likely you'll find a job.

The Institute for International Education of Students (IES) conducted a survey to explore the long-term impact of studying abroad on the personal, professional, and academic lives of students.

Ninety-five per cent of the students who were surveyed admitted that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity, 96 per cent reported increased self-confidence, and 95 per cent said it had a lasting impact on their worldview.

More than 50 per cent of the respondents are still in contact with friends they met when studying abroad and often see them during summer travelling.

If you're a recent graduate struggling to find a job in the congested UK Market, continuing your studies or finding work overseas could be an excellent option.

It's the route Gilly began on, and one he may continue to pursue – possibly to Mexico to work as a chef.

As for opening his own restaurant...

"It's an option," he says. "But I know how challenging it is as you're in charge, always working and it's a very competitive business."