Let’s hear it for the boys

By at home

With male graduates finding it tough to get work, should we worry about the future of men in the workplace?

The employment market is changing. Historically, and for more years than most women care to think about, it’s been heavily biased in the favour of men, but now it’s women who are emerging at the forefront of the job marketplace. This trend starts right back in the classroom, with boys doing less well than girls at GCSEs and A-levels. It continues through university, where women get more firsts and upper second class degrees than men, and then bleeds into graduate unemployment figures. In 2009, 17.2% of young male graduates were unemployed, compared to just 11.2% of young female graduates. So, what is going on with boys today? And what’s to become of the men they become and the careers they hope to have?

A growing gap
At school the gap is already apparent, with overall GCSE pass rates 7% lower for boys than for girls. And the gap just keeps widening. After GCSEs, 82% of girls are still in full-time education at age 16, whereas only 72% of boys can say the same. By the time A-levels come around, girls sit over 60,000 more exams across the UK than boys. By university, there are 130,000 more females in higher education than males. But even for those men who make it to the hallowed halls of higher education, they are significantly more likely to drop out before the end of the course. It doesn’t stop there. On the day the degree results are published, 63% of the women who trudge towards the results board will be relieved to find they have achieved a first or upper second class degree. Only 59.9% of males will experience that same relief.

What’s the problem?
Some educationists have suggested that GCSEs are the culprits, arguing that when O-levels were the means of testing, pass rates for boys and girls remained equal. Others argue that, worldwide, the trend is echoed from country to country, so there must be other more complicated factors. Chris Pierre, lead facilitator for the Sorrell Foundation (who aims to inspire creativity in young people and improve their quality of life through good design) spent over 20 years working as a teacher at Pimlico School in London, which became Pimlico Academy in 2008. He believes GCSEs aren’t the problem.

‘Girls tend to be more driven than boys and they don’t mind being goody goodies. Boys don’t want to be labelled swots. While girls are happy to show off to their friends, boys feel a degree of shame in doing well in front of their peers.’ But Pierre believes there are other significant factors involved. With the Sorrell Foundation, he has worked on an initiative called Designing Out Crime, working with disaffected youth – mainly boys – to engage them in their own education. (For more information on this programme, visit www.thesorrellfoundation.com/designing_out_crime.php).

‘They are very aware their environment isn’t theirs,’ says Pierre, ‘and there are factors about personal safety, too – if they feel vulnerable they are not going to learn. I can’t tell you the number of boys who don’t go to the loo during the school day; you can’t put CCTV cameras in toilets.’ What Pierre and his team do is get disaffected boys to help redesign their space. ‘It’s incredibly effective’, says Pierre, ‘I wouldn’t do it otherwise.’

The generation game
Others working in education stress the importance of changing the landscape of learning to prepare young people for the challenges of the modern working world. Annika Small, who worked at Futurelab, an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to transforming teaching and learning, says: ‘The best we can do is prepare young people for the rapidly changing social, technological and economic landscape. The next generation will need to be the most flexible, collaborative, resilient and creative generation there has ever been.’

In other words, it’s important to keep your options open. Male graduates can help improve their chance of employment by looking for gaps in the skills market. There is always a shortfall of STEM graduates – those who have studied sciences, technology, engineering and > maths. These subjects still tend to appeal to men more than women, so men should think about whether it’s worth refocusing their studies. In a globalised economy, language skills can often distinguish one graduate applicant from another. In Ready to Grow, an Education and Skills survey conducted by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), 65% of employers are looking for languages at conversational level to break the ice with customers or suppliers.

The male-female divide
In addition, men shouldn’t be reluctant to emphasise their feminine side at interviews. Traditionally, women are seen as successful communicators, natural organisers and good team workers. Men, on the other hand, are perceived as more likely to be ambitious, to empire build and then move on quickly to progress their career. Male graduates going for an interview should make sure they’ve researched the company thoroughly and not be afraid to gush about why they and the company are a perfect fit. The Higher Education Policy Institute reports that women graduates are seen as more useful to employers than male graduates. Women are considered more diligent, they try harder at university and, most importantly, they try harder to find work after university – and to stay in work.

On the up
However, it’s not all bad news for the boys. Despite finding it harder to get a job, within three years of starting work, men tend to earn more than their female peers. And once their feet are on the career ladder they are much more likely to climb all the way to the top. The Office of National Statistics says that more than 90% of board seats in the top 350 FTSE companies are held by men. Not only that, but men hold 97% of executive director positions and 99% of chairmanships. So men’s natural ambition does, it seems, help them in the end.

The reality danger zone

Education is essential, even for those with big dreams of the future

Kids always wanted
to grow up to be rich, but now the top of the priority list is being famous. Call it the fault of Big Brother, but the idea that you can earn millions by being a ‘Sleb’ has firmly taken root as a career option. Even when the career requires a skill, like being a professional footballer, far too many young people assume they’ll be the ones to rise to the top. A recent survey reported that 26% of 16-19-year-olds think a rich career in sport, media or entertainment is theirs for the taking.

Gavin Willacy, regional officer for London and the South for League Football Education, who manages the education programme for apprentice footballers at professional clubs, explains: ‘There are only about 3,000 full-time professional footballers in Britain, so it’s a tiny industry really. The opportunities are very slim. There are about 100 pro clubs, each with a youth system that could have up to 200 boys from aged eight to 18. But only 1% of those will become a pro footballer. We look after the 16-18 year old apprentices and of those only about 15% will be full-time pros by the time they’re 21. So they have to prepare for another career.

‘All the boys I worked with who were released by their clubs last summer have tried to get another club,’ says Gavin. ‘Most of them won’t get one so they are moving on to other things. Some have gone to university, some are coaching, others have gone in to family businesses, while a few have returned to college to re-train in another skill.’ Joe Harris was an apprentice for two years at Swansea City but is now a personal trainer at Fitness First. ‘Being released by Swansea City was a massive blow and I was really upset at the time, but then I realised it wasn’t the end of the world. It is imperative you look at what you might do if you’re not offered a contract. By planning ahead you can save a huge amount of time later on.’

Sell yourself
Find out what employers look for when recruiting…

Are you a graduate looking for work? Lizzi Holman, senior policy adviser with the CBI, the voice of British business, has the following advice to help you bag a job. ‘We asked business experts what they wanted from graduates, and surprisingly, further academic qualifications weren’t top of their list. They placed great importance on relevant work experience, and learning how to communicate and present themselves in a professional manner. The ability to be able to manage their own time was also key.’ 

Pictures: getty images

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