Graduate gap years to get you a job Print
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Tuesday, 07 September 2010 23:00
Graduate gap years to get you a job Partying on beaches is fun but won't help get a job

Wednesday, 08, Sep 2010 10:55

It's the time of year when university graduates are hoping to find work. Only now they're being shot down at the first hurdle because of the economic climate. This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people taking post university gap years.

With so many people doing the same thing, Tom Crosthwaite looks at how a year abroad can make you stand out from the crowd and help you get a foot on the career ladder.

It's hard to believe that only a few years ago, it was as simple as having a good degree to get the job you desired.

Unfortunately this was before the mother of all recessions, and with fewer jobs available a CV now needs more than just some good grades on it.

I can testify to this: I got my first interview because the employer wanted to find out more about how I had become a fire breather - something that I'd learnt on my gap year.

"More and more students realize that a degree on its own is not enough. You need to stand out," says Marcus Watts, founder of Gapforce, the largest graduate gap year provider in the UK.

Gapforce are well known for their unique style of gap year projects. They were responsible for bringing a group of Massai warriors to London in 2009 to take part in the Flora London Marathon. The Massai's aim was to raise money to bring clean drinking water to their village.

Marcus says: "A graduate gap year places you one step ahead. You know everyone else will be trying to improve their own chances of getting a job, so if you sit at home and do nothing you will be left behind."

Graduate gap years are on the increase and it seems that the government supports this too, with the Department of Business Skills and Innovations paying for 320 lower income graduates to take a three month gap year after they graduated last July.

Who can blame them, with last year setting a record for the number of graduates not finding work.

The only problem is lying on a beach in Thailand just won't cut it any more. So what will?

"Students are looking for programmes that are low cost and will improve their skills for their career. So programmes that offer public speaking training, budgeting, managing a team, are very popular," says Marcus. "The major growth is in graduate gap years that teach you new skills to help you get the job you desire."

Projects like Skiforce, where you train to be a ski instructor actually guarantees a paid job at the end of the programme.

And Sportforce, which lets you coach your favourite sport in Africa lets you manage a team, plan a budget, and run presentations, which are all core skills for most careers.

The only problem is you will pay extra to use a company like Gapforce to plan your gap year.

Fred Verity and his friend Nat Kovaks felt they could do it without any help. They raised money for the Cambodian Children's Education Foundation, through FEDA, to build a school for people living in a rural area called Ksach Poy.

They're now out there building the school, teaching English and just to make sure it's not all giving, they're being given free Khmer (the Cambodian language) lessons each day.

Fred explains why they chose this project: "Neither of us knew what we wanted to do with our lives and thought it was good to do something productive and challenging that involved us giving back to people and a place we loved."

"Also, because of how bad the economy is at the moment and lack of jobs I was in no rush to try and find a job which I would hate."

Cambodia's rural areas have been in ruins since the rule of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. The Khmer Rouge are blamed for the execution of over two million Cambodians in that time, killing anyone who could read and write; trying to create equality through genocide.

Nat and Fred both knew this from their travels in Cambodia before university, which is when the idea to build a school came to life. Because of this they had plenty of time to prepare, using their university holiday time wisely to help the cause.

They ran a club night each Wednesday night during the holidays with the proceeds going towards their planned charity project.

So they're having a great time, and feel they are really helping a place that without their support would still be another rural ruin without a chance to develop. But do they feel that this year out will improve their chances of landing their dream job?

"I bloody hope so!" says Fred. "I guess in a way we are hoping that while we're helping other people, in a way we are helping ourselves as it should stand out as something different on our CVs."

"If we were bumming around like last time we were here, I don't think we'd be employable," he added.

While Fred and Nat are hoping this is the case, Marcus Watts knows it is. Before founding Gapforce, Marcus ran his own hedge fund business in the city, and after seeing countless CVs with the same type of 'bum around' gap years on it, he saw the niche in the market for people who wanted a year out after university while still improving chances of getting a job.

"Our graduate gap years offer more than just skills. It offers you the option to work overseas, gain experience and then you could return to the UK in a year with more than just a sun tan."

So whatever way you choose to do, there are many ways of improving your chance of getting your dream job by taking a graduate gap year.

And with autumn right around the corner, there's no time like the present to be leaving England for a sunnier and more rewarding year.

Tom Crosthwaite

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