Finance

Too many graduates and a flat job market could mean a boom time for SMEs

Melinda Oliver /

A report from the Employment Department shows the proportion of new university graduates in full-time work is at its lowest level since the 1990s recession, according to The Australian.

The newspaper reports the department has warned job prospects for graduates could get worse as more and more highly-educated job-seekers flood the market.

It said the department had “raised concerns” about the former Labor Government’s “demand driven” system of funding universities. This saw caps on enrolments lifted, and the number of taxpayer-subsidised places for local students rise from about 469,000 in 2009 to around 577,000 last year.

Monash University researcher Bob Birrell told the paper the additional graduates will be entering a labour market that has “weakened sharply”.

“Everyone’s going to find it tough in the next few years because we’re experiencing a dramatic slowdown in job creation,” Birrell said.

The department has reportedly called for the removal of a number of occupations from the short-supply list, including accountants, solicitors, urban planners and occupational health and safety advisers, as the list is watched by job-seekers internationally.

However, for SMEs, a field of educated people keen to get a foothold in the workplace could present a “wonderful opportunity”, according to Randstad strategic account director Mike Roddy.

“It is an opportunity to pick up talented people, even if it is not in their initial field of study,” he says.

Roddy says graduates may have initially looked at SME employment as a short-term prospect, but a lot can be gained on both sides if handled well.

“Graduates are looking for education, experience and mentoring, and this is where SMEs can capitalise,” he says.

“You can offer them broad skills and experience in areas that the graduate may not have even thought of.”

He thinks SMEs typically “undersell the opportunities they offer”.

“Small businesses are contributing to our country…they may have small numbers of people but they have large scale contracts.

“They do diverse projects…they do complex work and are drivers of important and significant projects.”

He says “SMEs need to sell the message”.

Roddy says when hiring a graduate to keep expectations realistic in terms of the time they may spend with a business, but expecting a two-year commitment is reasonable.

“You could sell opportunities to work on project-based work, or offer flexible work or working from home,” he says.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong agrees the situation presents possibilities for both employers and graduates.

He says SMEs have the chance to work with graduates who are “bright and ambitious”.

While it can be disappointing for graduates hoping to leap straight into full-time work in their profession, he says countless people start their careers in sectors unrelated to their education.

“They might start in retail, or cafes or driving taxis,” he says. “The good thing is that they gain skills in communication, they get to see how the economy works, and they get more experience they can take into their career of choice.”

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