I got a degree, so where’s my job?

Like many parents, I told my kids, “Study hard, go to college, pick a technical course of study and you’ll get a good job.” While that direction may have been enough in the 1980’s or 90’s, today you need to add, “Get some work experience.” In the Portland, Oregon, area, over 80% of the job openings, requiring a 2- or 4-year degree, also require previous experience.

OK, so how do you get a job to get experience if most of the jobs require experience? Think chicken-before-egg or if you’re my age, Catch-22.

This circular logic problem is a wonderful life-example for your 20-something kids, but by that time in their lives they are a little tired of hearing about life lessons. They want answers. After some struggle, they may even look to you for help. So where do you turn?

  • Internships are often a good place to gain basic levels of experience. Companies often open up summer work internships to help with heavy-lifting projects (filing, relocations, equipment swaps, etc.) that don’t require much training or expertise. Unfortunately, the intern rarely learns much beyond show-up-on-time or how-to-follow-instructions and the typical duration, 3 to 4 months, is really not enough to help land a good job.
  • Know someone who can vouch for their abilities as quick learners. A best friend’s father or mother may be helpful, especially if either is an IT manager. They might have problems with hiring their own kids, but bringing in a sharp, energetic college grad is often a plus. Unfortunately, the odds are so small of that happening that they aren’t something to depend on.

Is there a better answer?

An apprenticeship program for IT grads. Twenty years ago, these programs were common in medium-to-large consulting companies. College grads would join a consulting firm and receive several weeks of subject-specific training. If they survived that shake-out period, they would be assigned to work on a project under the direct guidance of a senior staff member. Through a combination of observation and weekly reviews, the new hire would learn a professional style and delivery, while actively contributing on a project at a client site.

This system worked well. The clients were charged a reduced rate for the “junior consultants” and the senior staff resource provided both mentorship to the “apprentices” and assurance of quality delivery to the clients.

Where are these programs today?

With the exception of a few firms, they are largely gone. They disappeared in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with the boom of the dot-com era (demand for any talent regardless of experience) and the bust that followed. In the 2000’s, budgets were tight and job openings were few. Little energy was expended on training new workers for jobs that could be filled by qualified (often over-qualified) resources.

Today, many of these entry-level jobs are going unfilled, going to foreign workers holding H-1B visas or they are being outsourced to companies overseas.

There are, however, a few new IT apprenticeship programs starting up in the Portland area. One such initiative, Protégé Builder, is presented by a Portland consulting company, ieSolutions. It is built on a software testing framework as its core technology. I’m told that another company is operating a similar program, built on Java programmer staffing.

While these IT apprenticeship programs are small today, they hold hope for the future. Portland is rebuilding and reclaiming jobs for its community.


4 responses to “I got a degree, so where’s my job?

  1. Great post! Programs like this are what young people need to be utilizing. Any “experience” can make you a more sought after job candidate. I have worked with many students that could not find jobs or internships. One tip I always give to them is that no one is stopping them from becoming a subject matter expert. With the internet and public libraries, each student or grad should spend time reading up on the industry they want to enter. Not only will they be more knowledgeable but it will show through during the interview process. Just my two cents!

    • Thanks. This is one area where I agree with my kids when they say, “It wasn’t like this when you grew up.”

      I like your advice about becoming a self-taught SME. Too many students stop the learning process after they have a degree-in-hand. It then takes them years to realize that education is a lifelong process.

  2. Great post! There’s clearly a problem, and I don’t believe it is too difficult to solve. We just need to create the pull from employers. But as I have learnt, most sentences containing the word “just” are usually easier said than done!
    Is there an alternative? I don’t believe there is. If we leave this undone, we will never recover and we’ll create a lost generation. We need to get this sorted now, by encouraging employers to offer placements, internships… whatever qualifies as “experience”.

    • I agree …
      We need to take the responsibility for the rest of their education and not simply complain about these new grads not being ready for business.

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