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What is a graduate job? Insights from undergraduate students of expected graduate employment outcomes

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tracy Scurry, Dr John Blenkinsopp


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In the context of increased and widening participation of higher education, commentators express concern about the nature of employment graduates enter and the increasing potential for them to be underemployed. It is argued that a blurring of boundaries between graduate and non-graduate employment is occurring and that traditional definitions and classifications need development to reflect the changes taking place. Although work has begun on developing enhanced frameworks for classifying graduate employment, we argue that, in light of the increasing heterogeneity of the graduate populace, there is a need for a better understanding of employment expectations and how they vary, or not, in light of this diversity. Acknowledging that individuals’ expectations of employment begin to form prior to labour market entry, particularly during the transition into Higher Education, we draw on data gathered in 20 focus groups with undergraduate students from two universities. We explore the features of jobs which lead undergraduates to perceive them as appropriate graduate employment. Our findings show that individual’s expectations of their future employment prospects are influenced by perceptions of the nature of graduate employment which appear to be strongly held yet under-specified. There is a sense of an almost chimerical ‘ideal type’ of graduate occupation pervading expectations which comes from an unexamined assumption of objective levels that validate the ‘graduateness’ of an occupation. We argue that obtaining a clearer understanding of undergraduates’ expectations of their future employment (and the sources of these expectations) provides us with an empirical reference point against which to assess underemployment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Scurry T, Blenkinsopp J, Hay A

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Conference Name: BSA- Work, Employment and Society Conference

Year of Conference: 2010

Publisher: The British Sociological Association