Sleepwalking city


“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close” – Timothy Leary

These words from a late, counter-culture icon are particularly edifying as the ugly stampede for moderately well-paid, uninspiring, graduate jobs commences.

This time every year thousands of students sleepwalk into the stultifying morass of graduate schemes like birds migrating to more prosperous climates. This somnolent journey begins when KPMG, Deloitte and the rest of the “Big Five” corporations pour money into employment fairs and paid internships. They bombard disinterested students with pens, mouse mats and free food in the hope that some might sell their soul and surrender any individuality to the halfway houses of recruitment and finance in return for a solid starting salary and the coveted status of employment. The work in itself is of little enticement.

Dreams, however, are rarely realised in the offices of Michael Page. Nor do they appear in Milkround’s search results. Yet every year intelligent and creative graduates from universities across the country kid themselves into thinking they will only join the crappy cult of quarterly targets and overpriced post-work drinks for a short while. But the truth is that employees often sign enhanced contracts with little hesitation. Trapped in this hamster wheel, thousands of pounds continue to be spent on dull, soul-sapping South West Train journeys. All the big and original ideas that defined a graduate’s degree are consigned to the railroad side. Bright sparks, in short, fade fast.

Long after the self-imposed deadline expires, student overdrafts are replaced with mortgages and Audi’s bought on finance. It’s easy to see the attraction after several years of pot-noodles and cheap vodka. 22k a year is an oasis of stability – perhaps even a taste of luxury. George Washington once said that those willing to give up freedom in place of security deserve neither. Does the relative stability of a graduate scheme job justify the baggage of weekly targets, London’s cost of living and 5.6 weeks of paid leave a year?

We cannot ignore the importance of money: everyone needs a roof over their head and food in their stomach. But these things invariably sort themselves out; you’ll always find a way. And, while no job is beneath you, it is worth remembering that the more you commit to an employee the more exploitable you become.

Even if this beaten path works for the economy, it is fundamentally bad for wider society. Those brimming with originality and an independent mind-sets – our generation’s potential authors, adventurers, inventors – often find their individuality decapitated at the very juncture where creative potential and opportunities converge. Few follow their dreams, but more should – regardless of how idealistic or juvenile they first appear.

Ignore statistics that claim that one set of graduates earn £500 more than another, or that students from one university are X times more likely to find employment than Y. Such numbers ignore more important factors and prioritise jobs which, put bluntly, exist for the sake of existing. They take no note of whether or not students enjoy their work, or are doing what they really went to university to do.

We need more careers advisors like Gordon Chesterman at Cambridge University who runs an event entitled “But I don’t want to work in the City.” Ignore the cynics and trust your instincts. Go see some of the world and do something you enjoy.