Khobhi K. A. Williams

Rerouting a directionless Gen Z towards better work

This investigation tackles the problems graduates experience when looking for a job and how reforms could help a generation of lost young adults find fulfilling work.

Worrying trends about employment

The pressure of finding a job can be overwhelming for anyone coming out of education, however the expectation of finding a career is becoming increasingly misleading. When growing up your profession is constantly espoused as a critical life purpose. Whether it is called a life goal or a dream job, the expectation to find a position that perfectly fits your values, interests and skills is a fine tight rope to balance on. In a rapidly expanding world where technology is building jobs globally, graduates are finding it difficult to establish their footing.

Postgraduation Depression And The Pandemic

There is a growing incompatibility between academic attainment and high-skilled based employment. Although graduates are still significantly better off than those without degrees, for the last three decades graduates working in low to mid-level employment has doubled. Furthermore, the Pandemic exacerbated the academic and professional divide for young people.

In 2021, 18–24-year-olds suffered the greatest from unemployment and they were the least likely to be hired

Office of National Statistics 2021

Naturally, lockdown played a factor in youth unemployment becoming so high, however, this fails to explain why more graduates chose lower skilled jobs. One aspect that requires analysis is mental health. Rates of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and suicidal behaviour is higher in fresh graduates than the national average. There is a plethora of reasons why this happens. They attribute to the instant transition from education into adulthood, environmental changes in your friendship groups and residence and ultimately deciding what to do next. The added pressure of losing your student loan, can leave many of these people feeling deadlocked between needing an immediate income and seeking a sustainable career. Consequently, many graduates must take work they are overqualified to do in low to mid-range positions to stay afloat. Since 1992 there has been a:

  • 3% to 30% increase in grads working as bank of post office clerks
  • 4% to 22% rise in grads working as personal assistants or other secretaries
  • 3% to 19% increase of grads working in bars and restaurants.

The impact that this extended time spent in low level positions perpetuates a harmful cycle where job satisfaction is low but also the capability to enter something new. Considering how the Pandemic is still having a detrimental effect on graduate confidence, this time in lower skilled work massively hinders the aspirations of ex-students building a strong career. To explain this further, I spoke to a recent graduate about her experience.

Ola’s graduate biography

Ola, 22, graduated from her TV and Film Production degree in July 2022 and even before she finished, she was looking for work in the film industry with little success. Her biggest life passion is photography. Since she was a little girl, Ola has always had a camera and it is her deepest form of expression. Originally from Poland, she moved to the UK with hopes of finding better opportunities to break into the film industry.

She studied for three years believing it would help her get valuable work in Film and TV. She prepared her CV and Cover letters, applying to jobs consistently and not hearing back from studios. She attests that she has not received many opportunities because she lacks hands on work experience in the industry. She decided to move to London to find better opportunities, however, without family in the capital, she needed to take a waitressing job to keep up with her rent. Ola works there for 40 hours per week, taking up most of her time. Consequently, opportunities she received in the following months clashed with her work schedule. They were all freelance jobs with temporary contracts, so it would not be a long-term solution for paying her bills. Ideally, she would take jobs on, however, she emphasises that you need to be available for them and if that is not possible, they will seek someone else’s services.

 She described the experience of looking for a job in the film industry as helpless because her current waitressing job does not afford her the time to seek other options without it negatively impacting her quality of life. Ola’s decided to give herself one more year to break into the film industry and if this fails then she has considered moving away from London entirely. She hopes her journey doesn’t end this way. She enjoys her life in the city and can envision her future there; however, she also identifies that she needs to consider her options carefully.

Changing definitions of employment

People leaving university are feeling increasingly directionless with their careers and this is leading people to drastic actions once they’ve started their career. The Great Resignation shows a trend of people leaving their jobs in masse. The second quarter of 2022 saw the highest rate of estimated resignations since the recession, with 442,000 people leaving their job (Statista 2022). More people are switching career directions, they are coming into the office less and working from home. Many employees are considering how their job affects other life commitments. As life expectancy continues to increase, so does the expectation of a healthy work-life balance. A Ipsos survey found that the main cause of job dissatisfaction was based on the type of work they do, followed closely to a lack of a work-life balance. These figures show that people want to do work where employees envision growth without it significantly damaging their wellbeing. Professor Lynda Gratton, from the London Business School, expands on this notion stating that “Rather than experiencing their life journey in those three traditional phases of education, work and retirement, people are starting to see life as a multi-stage voyage. They are hungry for the flexibility to mix and match the stages.”

This fundamentally relates to graduates because they are entering the job market for the first time and like well established workers, they desire to start careers that help them grow and fulfil them over time. As there are an abundance of pathways a young person can take after university, finding and accessing the right path is becoming more tedious. As we are socially redefining our relationship with work, it is also necessary to re-evaluate how universities and employers help students enter the job market. To find the solutions to these problems, the postgrads at the heart of this problem must be highlighted. A couple’s story whilst on this journey could provide some insight on how graduates could be recognised sooner.

Tony and Sinead’s graduate biographies

Tony, 26, and Sinead, 24, are a young couple living together in a cramped yet cosy Newcastle flat. They both graduated from Northumbria University, Tony with a bachelor’s in film and TV Production and Sinead with a master’s in forensic science.

Currently, Tony works two jobs as a kit room technician at a local media company and as a technician at the eclectic opera house, the Sage. He freelances wherever he can because the demand in the film and entertainment industry is extremely competitive.

 His journey to film was unique. Originally from Carlisle, Tony was home educated for most his life and whilst at home, he began creating video edits on YouTube. This experience had a life-changing effect on him, though simply referring to this passion as ‘playtime,’ he elaborates that “through that playtime, I was able to edit, and I got a liking to it and a bit of a talent for it”. Tony started university without a clear path of where he’d end up, yet for him it was a great opportunity to get out of a small town and start afresh.

“If you double down on one thing these days, when you’re out of work, you’re out of work for a long time.”


He has always been ambitious and overtime he gained multiple useful skills to broaden his chances in the film industry. He portrays himself as a generalist, a person who attains technical skills almost like their Pokémon, so he can be a useful asset wherever he goes. When referring to his profession he explains his generalist approach like this: “if you double down on one thing these days… when you’re out of work, you’re out of work for a long time. Whereas if you have skills in different areas, one area might have nothing in it, but you can approach another field and have a job for three months”. He recognises that this does not apply to every graduate, however, his generalist strategy could help students in other ways. Furthermore, he emphasises that if it wasn’t for the advice of his personal tutor to approach his current employer he would still be searching for jobs. Tony’s experience shows that there are endless ways to gain experience in any profession, this notwithstanding good guidance from his tutor helped direct him towards the right position.

Sinead is looking for a job with hopes of finding an opportunity in academic publishing. She is interested in science, and she thought of entering medicine. Unlike most degrees, in medicine you can specialise in a vast array of different courses. However, she was not sure about what she wanted to do at uni. Eventually, through a couple of twists and turns, she decided to do biomedical science at the University Hull. Sinead chose it because of the possibility it gave to doing a postgrad in forensic science. As a fan of true crime, forensic science was a pathway that stuck out above the rest, and she wanted to learn about how the police use forensics to assist cases. Furthermore, Sinead is also from Carlisle and similarly to Tony, she wanted to move away from home for better options.

Since finishing her degree last January her plan was to start working in a forensics lab, however, over the past couple of months she has changed direction. Most of the lab jobs she wanted were in the South and she does not plan on moving anytime soon. She likes her life in Newcastle and with her relationship with Tony, moving is a difficult decision for her to consider. she does not think her work is the biggest purpose of her life, for her establishing a good work-life balance is a bigger priority. An example of this is when an opportunity with a lab in Leeds came along. Despite the interest the company showed in her, she withdrew her application because she sought reviews of the position at this company and was disappointed to find that employees heavily criticised the work environment and the lack of training the job provided applicants. Even with her master’s degree in Forensic Science, Sinead continued struggling to find an adequate position in a lab.

She wants to put her skills to good use, so she decided to search for work in scientific academic publishing. This came after receiving advice from a recruitment agency in the Northeast. Her path has not been straightforward; however, it does show that people consider many different factors on top of the quality of work itself. The saving grace in Sinead’s case is that she was provided a broader outlook for her job search from the recruitment agency. These are all essential components that universities and employers must take more seriously.

Rethinking employment and university

“We need better careers advice and guidance in schools so young people can make more informed choices about what to study.”

Lizzie Crowley, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD

Graduates today are facing an uphill battle in their quest for meaningful work. Despite being just as ambitious as older generations, they are struggling to find opportunities that align with their skills and passions. But there are steps that can be taken to improve this situation. For example, utilising recruitment agencies can significantly reduce the time it takes to find a job. Statistics from found that people who use recruitment agencies reduces their recruitment time by 6 and a half weeks.  However, students must be proactive in seeking out these resources, whilst needing to constantly study. By strengthening the connections between universities, agencies, and employers, we can expand options for both students and businesses. As Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, Lizzie Crowley, suggests, “We need better careers advice and guidance in schools so young people can make more informed choices about what to study.” Additionally, she calls for reform of the apprenticeship levy to incentivize employers to provide more apprenticeships. Finding valuable work is a process that requires patience and courage. It may not be easy, but by focusing on development, we can not only benefit the individual graduates, but also boost the economy in the long run.


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