In a changing world stricken by financial crisis, where employees hear the term 'you're fired' more often than 'you're hired', Notes reporters Maysam Ali and Rania Moussly investigate the options open to graduates in such troubled times.
Graduation day. The biggest day of a student's life — the thought of which makes many a student giddy with excitement, sick with nerves and jittery in anticipation. A mass sigh of relief can probably be heard, as emancipation from lecturers and dean's rules becomes a reality and the cliché 'the world is your oyster' never seemed truer.
A bitter-sweet day for those who part from dear friends and for those upon whom it dawns that their carefree days are officially over. A fresh batch of graduates is unleashed upon the "real world". Celebrations come to a sombre end and the novelty wears thin with graduates left wondering: what next?
Many students told Notes that they had set plans for the future, but would now have to delay or change them because of the economic situation. From finding internships and jobs to doing a master's programme, students are set to explore all their options.
University programmes today assist students in securing internships or work placements. At some institutions it is mandatory; others encourage it. "For those with little or no experience, considering an internship in a good company gives them the opportunity to gain experience… . If they work well, permanent employment after internship may be offered," said American University in Dubai's (AUD) career services manager Sue Hunter.
Romilla Peters, admissions and student services counsellor at the Murdoch University International Study Centre, advises students to "keep an open mind about career prospects, for the field you have studied and are now qualified in, does not necessarily mean you are limited to only the careers associated with that particular field… do not be afraid to think outside the box."
Most institutes collaborate with companies to offer work placement programmes to their students. This provides opportunities for them to interact and network, "providing vital industry connections and channels for them in their career advancement," said Romilla. Internships train students in professional environments, which enhances their resume and displays key skills — motivation and initiative.
For those unsure about what to do after graduation, Peters said: "The important thing is to keep an open mind. They should try to learn as much as possible about the different careers they are interested in, the key word being 'interested'." However, not all are lucky enough to land a job they enjoy.
Anuradha Vyas, head of student affairs at Skyline College, Sharjah, said it is important to "use your knowledge and skills in your workplace, family, society and everywhere else with a clear goal of creating value in every activity you do".
Life after graduation can be a confusing time, but not for those who come prepared.
Laila Ahmad Mohammed, 21, who will graduate with a data-base conversion degree from Dubai Women's College (DWC) in June, chose her major based on market research. She surveyed various organisations for skills in low supply. She discovered that her chosen field was in great demand, which drove her to excel in it. This practically guarantees her a job after graduation.
However, this year's graduates may be the unluckiest batch since the Great Depression as firms lay off workers by the thousands. The current situation can cause a lack of motivation and low morale in the job-hunting process, which is a job in itself. "It is important to remain positive and continue to keep busy. For me a life with no education has no point. You must keep learning and developing," said Laila. "Companies are now looking for hard workers, motivated people who will get the job done. You are given a short time to prove yourself… as fresh graduates with no work experience it is tough," she added.
Hanadi Mubarak, 21, will graduate in June with an e-business and management degree from DWC. She told Notes her choice of major was based on the fact that she didn't want to be constrained to one field — she wanted to keep her options open. Working part-time, teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speakers, volunteering for the Emirates National Student Union and summer training with Emirates Aviation College has complemented her choice.
Life after graduation for Hanadi seems set. She has been pondering her future plans for over a year and aspires to continue higher education and attain a Master's in Law. "It has been my childhood dream to become a lawyer and help people," she said. Graduation only marks the end of the first phase of life and the opening of a second. "You bear the fruits of the seeds you have planted over the past 16 years of study… it is exciting when you get the chance to apply what you have learnt in the real world," she added.
At Dubai Men's College (DMC), some of the students Notes spoke to said they were being sponsored by public and private companies and have hence secured jobs. Others said they were still looking.
When he got his Higher Diploma in Applied Media Studies, Khalil Al Abdouli starting working at the Dubai Police Media Department. Salem Al Nuaimi, majoring in Civil Engineering Technology, plans to find a job. "I can work and study since the classes are in the evening, but it is hard to find a job because of the current financial crisis," he told Notes.
Fatima Jalees, a BA Honours student of Communication and Media at Middlesex University Dubai, will be graduating in three months. She already has a job in publishing but has not yet been confirmed. Fatima said she always had plans to pursue a higher education. "I am considering doing my master's because I need that qualification," she said.
Mohammad Othman, a tourism student at Middlesex University Dubai, said the crisis doesn't really make any difference because he has been looking for a job for over a year and a half.
Guidance from a career counsellor
Becky Kilsby, career services manager at Middlesex University Dubai, said that the university teaches students career learning as part of their core requirements. "Students take career learning as part of their courses. They identify career options, write a CV, analyse their skills."
Career Services teaches students how to write a CV, a cover letter, how and when to find a job and how to present oneself to an employer. "We also organise a career day to give students the chance to speak to employers face-to-face," Kilsby said.
According to her students must prepare themselves for the transition to employment; they should join clubs, take on more responsibilities on campus, volunteer to be part of activities, internship opportunities, etc.
The university also ensures students make the most of the Graduate Training Schemes offered by companies, whereby companies employ students and train them through a fast-track management career plan.
Effect of the financial crisis
"It's going to be harder for students to find a job due to the financial crisis. The result is that students will have to work harder on presenting themselves. If students are looking for jobs now, they must make the best of networking. They should make contacts in whatever clubs or activities they are part of, find out what people do and get advice on it," Kilsby said.
On the other hand, it might not be a bad idea to go for your master's degree, she said. "Students will start to consider their master's as a good option, especially if they know which degree they want. It'll make them more employable because they will have gained extra knowledge and in the long term, they'll get where they want to be," she added.
"Short certificate courses and professional higher studies degrees have become a way for graduates to feel [they are] valuable employees in the future," she said.
Kilsby said students have to be realistic; they will be competing with people with years of experience, so they have to prove themselves and show that they are willing to grow and learn professionally.
Another option could be taking a gap year. "Students could consider volunteering to work after graduation, or even taking a gap year to develop their skills and get international experience," she said.
Look out for career fairs
The American University in Dubai (AUD) holds its annual "act now Career Fair" — where students and graduates are able to meet human resources executives from local, regional and international companies who are most likely recruiting.
The next AUD "act now Career Fair" is on February 2.
- For basic CV tips visit: http://www.cvtips.com
- For tips on facing an interview and writing that all-important CV go to the advice column on the left of: http://www.arabianbusiness.com/jobs
This is an excellent time to consider a master's or professional qualification which will enable you to specialise in a professional field, add value to your bachelor degree, and bolster what you can offer an employer.
Career advice for final year students from Becky Kilsby, career services manager at Middlesex University Dubai
How can you make yourself more attractive to employers?
- Have a clear idea of the sector you want to work in and what current trends are — the challenges and opportunities. This means research.
- Know yourself — what skills, knowledge and experience can you offer a future employer? List and provide examples of these, ready for the application process
- Develop transferable skills through voluntary or part-time work, then use these experiences in your applications
- Research which companies are offering Graduate Training Schemes
- Prepare an excellent CV
- Research prospective employers and work hard at your job search
- Use all your network of friends, family and professional contacts to source sector information and potential openings.
- Know what you are looking for and what you will be prepared to accept — be realistic!