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Millennials still turning to low paid work despite near-record numbers in higher education

Copper Crayon, a film production company based in Norwich with two Norwich University of the Arts alumni among its founders. Picture: Denisa Ilie

Copper Crayon, a film production company based in Norwich with two Norwich University of the Arts alumni among its founders. Picture: Denisa Ilie

Denisa Ilie

Students are being advised that social skills could be key to securing a coveted graduate job as a report shows rising university attendance is not being reflected in the under 30s’ pay.

The Ideas Factory at Norwich Unniversity of the Arts. Picture: Owen RichardsThe Ideas Factory at Norwich Unniversity of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), which prides itself on incorporating professional practice its courses, said graduates’ “softer skills” such as communication and teamwork are becoming increasingly important for potential employers.

It comes in response to a report by the Resolution Foundation which revealed millennial men have become the first generation to earn less than their predecessors - while women were earning no better than their predecessors, despite more of them being in high-skilled jobs.

The £12,500 pay deficit of 22 to 30-year-old men compared to those born between 1966 and 1980 was mainly attributed to a shift towards men working in lower-skilled or part-time jobs, with the proportion of low-paid work done by men increasing by 45% since 1993.

Rob Holdsworth of the Resolution Foundation said men had been more adversely affected by a fall in mid-skilled jobs like manufacturing.

Research from Universities UK shows higher education participation for 17 to 30-year-olds was at 48% in 2014/15, approaching its highest ever level.

However, NUA business director Sarah Steed said graduates starting out with part-time jobs may end up on the back foot.

She quoted research comparing graduates from 1999 to 2010, which showed those in 1999 who had gone into non-graduate jobs first had used them as a “stepping stone” into graduate employment, while graduates in 2010 who took the same route found it harder to progress.

She said: “The difficulty is getting students to engage with the things that are there to help them. I don’t think a lot of students think they will get a good graduate job at the end of their degree.”

Julia Nix, Jobcentre Plus district manager for East Anglia said more people were turning to workplace training to get ahead.

“Before, having a degree would have been a very specialist thing. Companies were waiting for the top degree students to employ. Now everyone at that level can get a degree but you do your own specialism in the workplace.

“If you are not prepared to do any further training, you will not move up.”

Changes to the millennial workforce

The number of men aged 22-30 in traditionally part-time work has risen dramatically since 1993 – there are now 165,000 in retail jobs, compared to 85,000 previously, and the number working in restaurants or bars has almost trebled from 45,000 to 130,000.

As a whole, the proportion of low-paid work done by young men has risen by 45% in the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of millennial women in retail jobs has fallen by 10% since 1993 from 290,000 to 255,000 and the numbers in teaching and business or finance roles are up – by 120% and 90% respectively in the same period.

There are now 325,000 young women in these professional roles, including sales and marketing – catching up to the 355,000 of their male counterparts in similar roles (up 85% from 1993).

Jason Martin, industrial and commercial temporary desk manager at OSR Recruitment in Norwich, said there had been an increase in young men looking for part-time work, but not necessarily by choice.

“It is not that it is what men are looking for ideally, but they are taking these kind of positions because that is all there is for them to take.”

Case study: millennial men

NUA graduates Harry Elvin and Ed Scarrow and University of Leeds graduate Chris Elmer set up film production company Copper Crayon in 2015. After turning over almost £50,000 in their first year, the trio now offer their moving image services to clients nationwide.

Mr Elvin suggested “geographical restrictions” were a common barrier to graduate employment.

He said: “Unless you already live in London where the streets are paved with gold then it’s likely a lot of career opportunities are out of commuting distance.”

He said all three knew fellow graduates who had struggled to find work, with some turning to low-paid or part-time jobs.

“Ultimately, many young people probably find themselves between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether to remain in their low paid jobs and earn money to continue living independently or take the time out to apply for other jobs, go to multiple interviews, take on unpaid work experience or begin internships for larger companies,” he said.

Jake Shannon is a member of the Thetford Young Business Forum, where he says a “vast majority” of his fellows are university educated and working in professional roles.

He said: “The advance in automation has killed a lot of jobs. It is mainly tech-based jobs that have disappeared, like administrative and secretarial roles.

“A big problem is that jobs in factories are disappearing and people are not being reskilled.”

He added: “Very few people I know with degrees work in their field. Now, a degree is a show of competence rather than a specialism.”

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