The 2009 crater, five years on16 July 2014
Over the last month or so I have started to attend various technical meetup groups, many of which are startup-focused ones such as SiliconDrinkabout, and due to their location they tend to attract significant numbers of students & recent graduates. As a result a common topic of discussion is the economy and the jobmarket. A particular talking point recently was some statistics put out by the BBC, regarding 2012-13 finalists, and how they are planning ahead much more than previous classes. Stripping away the waffle, the stats distilled down to the following:
- 75% started researching jobs before their final year
- 43% had made applications before November
- 34% started researching before the end of their first year
- 15% started looking before they started university.
Some historyThe typical estimates of the graduate jobmarket, based on surveys such as High Flyers 2013, is that 2008 & 2009 saw a compounded fall of 25%. A problem with such surveys is they target large organisations such as The Times top 100 graduate recruiters, which of course only accounts for around 5% of graduate destinations. Lot of companies that did not recruit anyone simply fell off the radar: My lasting memory of 2009 was logging onto the University careers service website, and for ‘finalist’ jobs there was a grand total of 35. Graduate recruitment basically froze.
Of course what the statistics don't show is the extent that of the remaining graduate vacancies, relatively few were “open” vacancies, as by and large they were given to former interns and those who deferred an offer from the previous year. I was aware of some companies that had the explict policy of closing graduate recruitment completely: graduates were expected to join the internship schemes. No wonder that in 2009 applications to Bristol postgrad courses shot up by 30%, and 2010 admissions were closed long before Christmas.
Retention in UKOne thing notable about the UK during the crunch compared to the rest of Europe is that unemployment stayed relatively low. In the past recessions was when older workers got cleared out to make room for cheaper younger ones, but this time round organisations opted for retention. The only rational reasons for this is that recruiting people and getting them up to speed is now more than the salary differential. That means either recruitment costs have gone up, or pay scales have become flatter, and I suspect it may be both. I am aware that because of compliance such as anti-discrimination laws, employers put a premium on having people who are less likley to cause ‘problems’, and the only legal way of doing that is to recruit noone.
Experience insanitiesWhile I can understand the aversion to taking on fresh graduates, it is not just graduates who have problems with the commercial experience requirements. These days the type of experience is becoming increasingly prescriptive:
- Ten or so years ago all the talk was about transferable skills, with the declared point that even for software development jobs programming skills were not the major decision point in recruitment. I was skeptical of this at the time and it certainly isn't true today. Used C & Java/C# professionally but they want C++? Forget it. I got my current job by playing up the extent I had used Python in my previous one, and only got away with it because I knew just enough to survive 80% of the questions they asked about it over 15-20 minutes.
- Breaking out
- Because companies want ‘commercial’ experience but don't really define what it is, I use the catch-all definition of things done on company time. The problem is how to extend the scope of experience on company time in a reasonably legitimate way, which typically means choosing implementation technologies such as programming language based on CV gaps rather than prevailing choices and/or expedience. My last company was one that did a lot of experimental stuff, so doing this ulterior motive work such as was relatively easy, but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
- Getting and claiming experience is one thing, but for it to be plausible it also has to be in line with what the company actually does, lest someone should actually mention it while getting references. I could plausably claim Ruby experience at my current company as I happened to use it to write an RPC agent one sprint and could play it up because MCollective is used extensively, but claiming C#.NET would be a non-starter as the company does not develop for Windows. I have heard stories such as “experience with Visual Studio” meaning seeing someone else use it.
- I am forever amazed at how many job specification ask for unrealistic skills sets such as expertise in multiple disparate language and technologies, to the extent that if someone actually claimed to have it all, odds are they are lying. More prominently I have seen job adverts for C#.NET asking for 10 years experience, which means that notionally suitable candidates would have had to been using it continuously since version one. And one wonders why IT is not exactly known for honesty.