Riots on the streets of London, fears over the future cost of education and worries about jobs after graduation: it is an uncertain time to be a student at present.
A recent study by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) found that the number of graduates who were unemployed six months after finishing their courses increased by one per cent in 2009, reaching 8.9 per cent.
It is now a month after the report was published and final-year fashion students in the north-west of England told Retail Gazette this week they are still “very concerned” about their job prospects, with one student calling the current marketplace “very demoralising”.
Young adults at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) are aware they are studying a subject in a highly competitive sector - one that will require a lot of academic and practical work to break into after graduation - and many are doing all they can to enhance their chances of gaining employment.
Emily Burn, who is in the closing stages of an International Fashion Marketing course at MMU, said: “I’m ensuring I get a really good degree to match the high level of industry experience I have already obtained from completing my placement year and various unpaid internships.”
Course mate Joanna Scott said there is not much the government can do to boost the current fashion retail jobs market, but she called on private companies to focus their attention on “taking on people new to the industry and training them up”.
HECSU’s research indicates that 14.4 per cent of graduates in work in 2009 were employed by the retail industry, but this includes chefs, cooks, waiters, waitresses and bar staff, as well as sales assistants and checkout operators.
It appears fashion graduates are prepared to work in less skilled roles while they wait for a job opportunity they really crave.
Burn commented: “There are no other sectors I would want to work within.
“If I didn’t get the job I wanted, I would either look at starting on my own as I have previously owned my own business, or alternatively I would look at going in at a lower position.
“I would prefer to work unpaid but gain valuable experience that would help me to secure the role I wanted.”
The market may be tougher than it has been for previous graduates, but the retail sector is still seen as one of the best placed industries to find people work at a time of mass public sector job cuts.
According to the British Retail Consortium, the industry can create a plethora of jobs in the new year as long as the government avoids over-regulating businesses and stops implementing measures that add administrative burdens.
Gaynor Lea-Greenwood, Senior Lecturer in International Fashion Marketing at MMU, said that clothing, like food, is a “necessity of life” and there will always be an appetite for the industry even if jobs will not be served up on a plate.
“A job is not a right, it is a privilege and I think that many students who have been brought up in the time of boom could not envisage bust,” she explained.
“Students are now in a much more competitive situation which means they must go the extra mile and not expect to fall into a great job.
“They must invest both financially and in their time to ensure that they offer more than the average graduate.”