The Gateway guide to recession dodging

The need to know advice for graduates facing tough career choices in 2009 and 2010

You can always count on The Gateway to tell it like it is. Whilst many careers publications appear oblivious to the economic climate which we undoubtedly have an effect on graduates coming out of university in the next couple of years, we have always striven to give you a realistic perspective of what to expect. Recessions are common occurrences in any economy and even the most severe don't usually last more than a couple of years. Nevertheless, the beginning of your post-university career is a key time and it is important not to waste it. For those who are worried about the choices to make now that many traditional graduate schemes are cutting numbers, we highlight some viable alternatives:

1. Choose a reliable profession

What is a reliable profession nowadays? Recession seeps in to all areas of the economy and most industries will be affected. There are a few, however, that should remain relatively resilient:

The law - whilst certain practises of City law firms such as property and M&A will suffer in a downturn, other areas such as litigation and private client work should fare relatively well. There is normally increased litigation work to be done when the economy is in a downturn as companies look to recover debt from failing companies and firms go into administration. The other benefit/obstacle is that going into the legal profession requires a two year conversion course (see point 4) which will remove the need to look for work over the next two years by which time the economy should have picked up. Courses are also very expensive, though many firms will sponsor you through the process.

Accountancy/audit - there is always a need for accountants and auditors, which are services which all companies are required to carry out regardless of the economic climate. As firms become more scrupulous regarding their accounts, their need for these types of services can only increase so it is a relatively safe bet for someone interested in the financial services industry. The other benefit is that most firms have structured graduate schemes that will sponsor you through obtaining an ACA qualification which will leave you well served in two years time when the employment prospects for many businesses should have improved.

2. Join the public sector

Perhaps the most reliable bet of all, though it depends on which area of the public sector you choose. There will always be a need for doctors and teachers as both professions are hugely under-staffed in the United Kingdom.

The NHS - The NHS is the largest employer in the country with a million employees. Whilst training as a doctor usually requires seven years of study there are now a few 'conversion' courses available thought they are hugely competitive and require a 'proven' interest in the field which may mean a year spent doing dogsbody jobs in a clinic or nursing home if you want to be taken seriously. There also a number of management and administration schemes available with the organisation if blood and guts aren't really your thing.

Teaching - A much easier route with teacher-training grants widely available for graduates who are looking to fund their training. Whilst the route into the teaching profession from the private sector is a relatively well trodden one, however, doing it the other way round is much harder so you should make sure you are committed to a lifetime of teaching rowdy 11 year olds before you sign on the dotted line. The Teach First scheme, however, offers a short-term two year teaching scheme that can then lead into a job in the private sector.

The Civil service, defence, intelligence agencies - Always on the lookout for top graduates and run various fast-track schemes that offer structured training and development. These jobs might not pay as much as banking and law, but a lot depends on whether the Government looks to slim-line public sector spending or not. Certain schemes have upped their graduate intake for 2009, including the Financial Services Authority (see FSA: Lessons from the Crunch) in our latest issue.

3. Move abroad

The most attractive option, perhaps. Harsh economic times have always prompted mass emigration amongst manual workers and educated types alike. Whilst we are hopefully not encountering the next potato famine, fewer graduate positions will lead to many graduates looking for opportunities abroad or going on extended gap years. The question, though, is where to go? Most of Europe has been faring worse than the UK in its graduate job prospects for years. Southern Italy has a 40% unemployment rate amongst its under 25s. With the US looking shaky and having strict immigration laws, other options are the traditional bolt-holes of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which are generally much more welcoming of foreign workers and have reciprocal agreements in place with the UK if you want to work there for a year or longer. Another option is going somewhere where they don't speak English - Brazil, China and many parts of Asia and South America are booming and crying out for English teachers though don't expect to earn much beyond covering you living costs. For those with an eye on Brazil, there are numerous private language schools where it is relatively easy to find work such as Cultura Inglesa. There are also several schemes such as the Daiwa scholarship which offer structured programmes. Alternatively, there are a plethora of gap year and voluntary schemes out there which are decent CV boosters, especially if you can pick up a language.

4. Further Study

An expensive option and, depending on your course and future career plans, variable in how far it will help you in the long run. Masters and PHDs in scientific disciplines are often well regarded by employers if you are looking to work in the private sector one day and are generally easy to receive funding for. Other postgraduate qualifications in arts and social sciences however, aren't as well funded and do not hold as much sway with employers. Though the post-graduate world can be a safe haven from the economic woes of the real world, this might not be reason enough to take yourself out of the job market for a year or more, especially given the cost that may be involved. Work experience is generally better looked upon than further study unless you are going into a specialist career in the health-care or energy industry, for example. Check out this article on the subject in issue 8.

5. Start your own business

The most ballsy option, undoubtedly. You need to start with a good idea and have the money to back it up which can be obtained through a several though not necessarily viable options including bank loans, funding from private investors, venture capital firms and friends and family (for a comprehensive guide see David Langer's article in issue 6). Tough, but by no means impossible. The biggest hindrance is paradoxically that pressure that comes from having a well-respected degree to go into a standard profession. Most entrepreneurs are self starters who have bypassed the higher education route - 40% of millionaires don't have any A' levels. When times are tough, there is added incentive to choose a 'safe' career, but equally, if professions such as banking are no longer as reliable as they were, there is nothing to stop you going your own way. The experience you will get out of it should also be far beyond anything you will get from a standard grad scheme and shouldn't do any harm to your CV.

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