By Guest Contributor  Mon Jul 22, 2013

The Importance of Work Experience for Students

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At first glance, unemployment statistics in the United States suggest that the country is beginning to experience a period of sustained economic growth. From a starting point of 7.9% in January of this year, the national rate of unemployment tumbled to 7.6% in June as a growing number of firms continued to hire steadily and without interruption. Even as unemployment benefit applications rose by 16,000 during the first week of June, this was consistent with the level of tentative growth that has continued through the second financial quarter.

Beyond the statistics, however, there are various reasons for the nation’s politicians to be concerned. Not only is the current labor market recovery the weakest since World War II, but there remain several demographics that are unable to find work or achieve their desired career success. To put this into context, approximately 55% of the 175,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy during May were either low-paid or temporary assignments, while youth unemployment continues to soar and has now reached a staggering 16.2% across the U.S.

Chronic Student Underemployment

It is the current generation of graduates that is suffering the most considerable hardship, however, as minimal employment opportunities and spiraling debt continue to undermine future prospects. According to a recent online survey, more than 40% of U.S. college graduates are either underemployed or working in jobs that do not even require a college degree. Subsequently, cumulative student debt in the U.S. has soared beyond the $1 trillion mark, which in turn has created a demographic that is unable to repay the cost of their education or contribute toward the growth of a nation’s economy.

So is this simply the result of a failing labor market, or are there steps that students and graduates can take to improve their suitability as candidates for work in 2013? Increasingly, recruiters are looking for candidates to display practical workplace skills and experience that can be applied directly to a specific industry or market niche. While this cannot be acquired at the expense of a required academic qualification or degree certification, the prevailing employer mindset does provide an opportunity for students to enhance their appeal in a competitive market. Consider the following steps toward gaining relevant and actionable experience:

Travel and Work Abroad During the Summer Months

As an aspiring graduate, you must never loose sight of your academic goals and what is required to achieve them. This is why sourcing work experience can be difficult when studying, especially for those pursuing qualifications in challenging subjects such as business and finance. That said, the summer months and the year immediately following graduation provide students with the ideal opportunity to seek out viable workplace experience, as they can focus on developing practical skills without having to carefully manage their time.

Depending on your long-term career goals, it may be worth spending some time abroad to acquire experience of the global job market, as this will afford you a unique edge over the majority of your contemporaries while also allowing you to develop maturity and a greater sense of cultural awareness. When you consider the increasingly flexible and global nature of the workplace, these attributes are likely to be in considerable demand during the next decade.

Volunteering and Vocational Work

While many experts have bemoaned the state of the labor market and the concept of underemployment, others would claim that this only facilitates the culture of entitlement that exists in developed economies. The truth remains that if graduates are driven to succeed in their long-term career goals, they should be willing to accept menial, vocational and volunteer opportunities that provide them with the necessary workplace skills and experience.

In fact, these types of job are extremely beneficial for students as, although they may be financially and intellectually unrewarding, they provide the ideal stepping stone for graduate jobs and future career moves. Experiences gained in the nonprofit sector or an entry level role that is related to your career of choice can significantly boost your appeal in the eyes of employers, primarily because they build your strength of character and reveal an innate desire to work.

Consider Offering a Service or Establishing an Independent Venture

If you aspire to secure a prosperous career upon graduation, it is absolutely imperative that you recognize the changing face of the workplace and labor force. This is especially true if you aspire to work in management or develop professional leadership skills, as there is a need to understand the contemporary employee mindset and most popular methods of working. With Intuit predicting that freelancers and self-employed workers could contribute toward 40% of the labor market by 2020, managing a team of staff will require a diverse and unusual range of practical skills.

In order to acquire these skills, you may consider establishing a part-time venture that delivers a service to fellow students or a wider consumer base. If established during the summer, this will enable you to gain first-hand experience of managing a professional project and selling a marketable service, without compromising on your academic studies. With the opportunity to also employ staff and learn the fundamental basics of workplace leadership, your independent venture could make a considerable difference in the eyes of demanding employees.

The Bottom Line

While labor market growth remains tentative and has been undermined by the creation of low paid, temporary work, the issues facing unemployed graduates stretch far beyond an ailing economy. A failure to appreciate the importance of workplace experience and its benefits is a significant cause for concern, while some graduates may also be carrying a sense of entitlement that is preventing them from being proactive in their search for work. With vision, desire and a long-term career plan, however, it is possible to gain valuable workplace experience and succeed even as the job market falters.

 

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