Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unemployment fears grow for 'hopeless' UK male graduates

Complacency and "general hopelessness" have been blamed for the failure of young British men as research reveals that underperformance in school and university is now creeping into their working lives. A report published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank says male graduates are far more likely to be unemployed than their female counterparts.

Figures show that the economic downturn caused an increase in graduate unemployment from 11.1% at the end of 2008 to 14% by the end of last year. But when the figures are broken down by sex a stark picture emerges of 17.2% of young male graduates failing to find jobs compared to 11.2% of women.

Now Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which represents more than 800 major "milk round" graduate employers, has warned that an affluent upbringing has left many UK male graduates with a "degree of complacency". He said there was a feeling among his members that British male graduates were being outperformed by women and competition from overseas when applying for jobs.

"When I talk to graduate recruiters about how impressive candidates applying for jobs are, I do pick up a sense that female graduates are a little more mature and focused, that they put together good applications," said Gilleard.

He argued that a "relaxed" upbringing could be to blame: "One possible reason might be a degree of complacency because of an extensive period of growth in an affluent society and it may be that these male students think the fact they went to university is going to be enough to guarantee them the dream career. That isn't the case. I think women generally are more level-headed and sensible," he said.

Gilleard, who will be speaking at the AGR annual conference this week, warned things will get worse for those without jobs when another cohort of graduates enters the market this summer. "The class of 2010 are competing with the class of 2009 and it is going to be a feature of the graduate market until the economy really takes off again."

The AGR has warned that a good degree is no longer enough to guarantee a career, saying that additional factors such as work experience and volunteering have become crucial.

Bahram Bekhradnia, the HEPI's director, spoke of the "general hopelessness of young men". "The increase in unemployment that occurred between 2008 and 2009 is striking. For those graduates who have not found work it is a personal tragedy – a really bad start to their working lives," he said.

He pointed to forecasts that suggest women will dominate the professions within 15 years. "That has all sorts of implications for things such as family creation, child-rearing and so on. The situation in some countries is even more extreme. An American woman told a conference I attended of the fury of black American women who found it impossible to form relationships with men of the same race with similar educational attainment because black American males weren't going to university.

"If you aspire to form relationships with people who have similar educational backgrounds then women will find that more difficult as this trend becomes accentuated."

But he pointed to "one important caveat" revealed in the study: while men are finding it harder to get into the job market, once there they continue to achieve higher pay. Today's study reveals that male graduates starting work are paid on average 11%, or £2,000, more than women. Three years on, the gap has widened to more than £4,000, or 17%.

Around half of the difference can be put down to subject choice, but the rest is unaccounted for and could indicate discriminatory forces. Yesterday, the Fawcett Society, a women's rights organisation, warned that the government's emergency budget would hit women hardest. They pointed out that women make up the bulk of public sector employees and rely more heavily on state support.

Nevertheless, the underachievement of men in school, university and adulthood is now an international phenomenon and it is one that is being increasingly studied in psychology. Academics are also interested in why men are so much more likely than women to turn to crime.

Dr Robert McHenry, an occupational psychologist who lectures at the University of Oxford, said: "From a very strictly psychological point of view there is a good body of evidence that if you compare men with women you will find more men on the extremes. When applied, as it often is, to academic results, at the top end men take more chances – pull off the odd flash of brilliance – and at the bottom end they are more lazy. Women tend to be more hard-working, more conscientious."

McHenry, who is also chief executive of the business psychology consultancy OPP, added: "Some people bring it right back to evolution – that men are genetically predisposed to have a greater range of abilities. Others say it is cultural – that women are brought up to be more sensible."

He also argued that young men tended to be less careful when it came to appearance and "soft presentation" – factors becoming increasingly important in job applications.

The government does not have any specific policies that focus on gender differences after graduation. But David Willetts, the higher education minister, said he was helping graduates by getting universities to provide "employability statements" about different courses.

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