Bachelor degree graduates Too young to start a career?

Bachelor graduates can do more than many think they can.
Bachelor graduates can do more than many think they can. | Photo (detail): © Minerva Studio – Fotolia

Thanks to shortened grammar school time, degree graduates in Germany today are younger than ever. How open is business to these job starters?

When Cornelia Schrock and Sibylle Weiger interview applicants interested in a Bachelor degree programme, they often find just under 17-year-olds sitting before them. Together with colleagues, the two training instructors supervise the dual studies programmes at the IT company Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Böblingen, Bad Homburg, Ratingen, Munich and Hamburg. The dual studies programmes combine academic theory with professional practice. Along with the university or professional school, a company is also responsible for the training. “The contracts often still have to be signed by the parents”, notes Schrock. New students who are not even allowed by law to sign their own leases are not uncommon in the times of “G8”. G8 stands for eight years of grammar school: in many German federal states, students take their school-leaving examination after the twelfth school year, and not, as before, after the thirteenth. They are young, very young, when they begin their university education. And just in their early twenties if they apply for a job directly after taking their Bachelor degree.

Many graduates at odds with their skills

The European academic reform, the so-called Bologna Process, has brought with it profound changes – and not only as far as the structure of the new, two-tier higher education is concerned. After only three years, students have in their Bachelor a degree qualifying them for a profession in their pocket. Yet only one of three students takes advantage of this opportunity and actually enters a profession – many Bachelor graduates are at odds with their skills. According to a current Allensbach survey, they feel themselves not yet sufficiently competent and prefer to add a Master’s degree to their qualifications. Business, however, is much more open to the new degree than many think. “We find in our surveys that Bachelor graduates have good professional qualifications and easily find the usual jobs for degree graduates”, says Christiane Konegen-Grenier, an expert on academic education at the Institute of German Economy in Cologne. “What they lack is the ability to transfer methodologically disciplined knowledge to problems and apply it in practice.” A deficit, but one that the education expert has also observed in students about to take their diplomas and Master’s graduates, and links to the lack of practical experience in higher education.

Young colleagues, creative suggestions

In a dual studies programme, on other hand, students gain an insight into professional life from day one. At Hewlett-Packard, they come into contact in the practical phases with experienced colleagues who often take them along on visits to customers. In this way they are introduced step by step to their tasks in the company and prepared to initiate their own projects. “Of course we see different levels of maturity”, says Sibylle Weiger. “But the students and Bachelor graduates are sufficiently assertive to take their place in the team.” In the departments, the young colleagues are seen as an enrichment. “They bring a fresh wind into things and often propose creative solutions.” But the wish to take a subsequent Master’s degree is also still pronounced amongst participants in the dual studies programmes. From the point of view of the company, however, this is by no means a necessary step: “For a career at HP, the Master’s isn’t decisive”, stresses Cornelia Schrock.

A leave of absence is not a deficit

Jens Plinke, Head of Corporate Employer Branding at Henkel in Düsseldorf, also emphasizes that “A degree is not necessarily the prime criterion for our selection of applicants”. What priorities has someone set, what are his or her interests? These aspects too play an important role in the decisions of the consumer goods company’s recruiters. Practical experience, gladly in combination with a stay abroad, are plus points high on the list of priorities not only at Henkel. For this reason, students can also take a semester more. “Students who take a leave of absence because time is lacking for internships in the clocked Bachelor programme aren’t looked upon askance as applicants. On the contrary.”

Not to become fixated on the degree, to gather as much practical experience as possible and, once you have the Bachelor in your pocket, not to shrink from testing your market value – this approach can pay off. Because Master’s graduates apparently earn only slightly more than graduates with Bachelor degrees. “A good half of the companies surveyed by us pay the same starting salaries regardless of the sort of degree”, says Christiane Konegen-Grenier of the Institute of German Economy. Where there are differences, they are less than ten per cent and become adjusted in the course of the person’s career. A surprising result, also for the experienced education researcher. “In terms of the shorter period of study, that isn’t much of a difference”, she notes. “You really have to consider whether the Master’s is worth the time.”