Organisation - March 22, 2012

Doomed to be unemployed

It looks as though anyone coming out of Dutch universities at the moment can forget the idea of landing a job. It is a long time since the job prospects for graduates were so poor, and even Wageningen's green domain is affected. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Good news!/ We have extended your contract by five minutes!/ ... so you've got more time to finish your coffee...
Let us start with some sobering statistics. The number of vacancies in the Netherlands has fallen drastically in the last three years. At the moment there are about 120,000 vacancies, half the number of jobs going at the end of 2008. And the malaise is affecting jobs at all educational levels. In fact, the number of unemployed graduates rose from 66,000 in 2008 to 100,000 in 2010.
Wageningers tend to take such news with a pinch of salt. Unemployment? Isn't that more of an issue for philosophers and literary scholars? Well, yes and no. It is true that there are big differences between sectors. In the health care sector, the demand for educated staff has stayed high and is expected to continue to do so. Some Wageningen UR graduates can benefit from that. But in other Wageningen fields, people are definitely going to feel the pinch.
Ecojob is a job broker that specializes in what it calls ‘environment jobs'. Jeroen van de Kamp, himself a graduate of VHL, runs Ecojob's Deventer office. He has seen the market collapse in the last year. Jobs with companies have been getting thinner on the ground since 2009, but in 2011 the government budget cuts started to be felt in government departments like the Service for Water and Land Management too. Van de Kamp: ‘There are about 200 young job-seekers registered with us, half of them with a university background. But the number of vacancies is limited. In a good week we might get about ten. So at the moment we are not able to help very many people find jobs.
Flexi contracts
The decline in job opportunities is not the only problem. Many starters are kept on a string on ‘flexi-contracts' for years, only to be made redundant in the end. Van de Kamp: ‘An increasingly common model is the ‘flexible outer peel': a company has a core team of permanent staff surrounded by a layer of flexi staff, taken on or dismissed according to the economic climate.' The Dutch employees' insurance agency UVW reported recently that only 2000 people were offered a permanent post in the Netherlands in 2011, as opposed to 82,000 (!) the year before. So it is rare these days for anyone to start their career with the security of a permanent post. This is difficult, especially since in as many as 80 percent of the cases, the long-term flexi contracts do not lead to a permanent post. Only for positions that are difficult to fill are permanent contracts offered. Van de Kamp sees this too and deplores the development. ‘We would much prefer to help people get a permanent post.'
Gloom and doom, then. But there is a glimmer of hope, labour market specialists assure us. They blame the falling number of jobs on the recession. In the longer term, the ageing population should lead to a growth. Ton Wilthagen, labour market professor at the University of Tilburg, calculated that about 200,000 baby boomers are leaving the labour market every year. That is about 4 percent of the graduate professional population. The influx of new graduates stays at around 3.5 percent, leaving a shortfall of about half a percent. In the technical, education and care sectors, big shortages are even predicted.
This broader trend is making its mark at Ecojob, too. Van de Kamp: ‘Recently, demand has started going up a bit again, whereas the crisis is not over yet. That might have something to do with the need to replace the retiring baby boomers.' So the big dip in the labour market could be short-lived and the departure of the baby boomers may be the answer. But at the same time there are still more swingeing budget cuts ahead, and we don't yet know how far-reaching their effects will be. Whatever happens, doing a degree, whether in an academic field or in the applied sciences, remains a good option, according to labour market specialists. Not only does it increase your chances on the job market, but it also ensures you'll be paid more when you do land a job.
‘Endless rejections are discouraging'
Lizet (25) graduated in 2010 in Forest and Nature Management. ‘I have been looking for a job for one and a half years already. I have sent off 26 letters of application, most of them for jobs in my own field. I was invited for interview for just one application, for a PhD position. That was after getting some advice from the UWV about how to sell myself better in a letter. Apparently it worked. But I didn't get through the selection procedure after that. I am doing voluntary work for a landscape organization in the province of Overijssel. For a bit more security, I am going to work for the tax information line. I am happy to have something at least. It will be nice, as well, if I can then afford to live independently again. I am ready for that. It is very frustrating and demotivating constantly to hear: ‘Thank you for your interest, but...' I will keep trying and hope to find something related to my field as soon as possible. I think it will come - you have to stay optimistic. At some point they won't be able to ignore all the nature and environment people anymore. After all, everything needs to become more sustainable.'

‘You start from scratch again'
Wouter (28) graduated in spatial planning in September 2010. It is difficult for him to find a permanent job in his field. ‘I have had a number of jobs but only one in spatial planning. I have applied for about 25 jobs. They were not all equally nice, but beggars can't be choosers. I was invited for interview for precisely one job. Usually I get told there were anything from 100 to 300 applicants and that other candidates' profiles were a better fit. In January I started working in IT; after all, you'd rather work that sit around at home. It has the advantage that you are working and therefore getting some work experience. And then you also learn some new things about IT and project management. The disadvantage is that you have to start from scratch again. You have no IT experience and that is reflected in the sort of work you do and the salary you get. I'll just have to wait until the crisis blows over. Of course I keep on looking at nice spatial planning vacancies, but at least I've got something to do now.'