By Marcus Leach

Research published today, Friday 13th, highlights the shocking statistic that 40% of last year’s graduates are under-employed in low skilled jobs.

This figure is up from about 30% four years ago and the report from the Association of Accounting Technicians warns that 55% of the next year’s graduates will either be unemployed or in low-skilled work six months after graduation.

One of Britain’s most successful social entrepreneurs Robert Ashton said today that the youth, energy and drive of recent graduates should be focused on helping community organisations and voluntary groups rise to the opportunities presented to them by Big Society.

“Students are taught to view the world objectively and to interpret often complex situations into new ideas and concepts,” said Mr Ashton, who is Managing Director of Ethecol Merchant Services CIC and author of best-selling book ‘How to be a Social Entrepreneur’.

“These skills, together with the vigour and can-do attitude that comes with youth, are exactly what people need as they wrestle with the impact of Government funding cuts and the need for innovative new ways of delivering services.

“The government already funds the Graduate Talent Pool which links graduates with commercial internships but let’s extend the scheme and create a Big Society internship programme. This might pay the minimum wage, perhaps half paid by a local Council or NHS Trust and the balance subsidised with the benefit payments they’d get if unemployed.

“Then with the right local support, mentoring and encouragement they could form a fantastic Big Society task force, working at the very grassroots of society to make things happen.

Two generations ago people did National Service and learned how to fight with guns. Many said it was character building. Now it’s far more appropriate to encourage young people to fight poverty, loneliness and social exclusion with their brains. This will be character building too, created the rounded, responsible and social conscious citizens we need today.

“Big Society makes it possible for enterprising individuals to create roles for themselves in all sectors of our community,” said Mr Ashton.

On top of the figure for graduates who are under-employed the figures for graduate unemployment have also risen. Graduate unemployment stood at 11% in 2007 and has risen to 20% for those graduating last year.

"If we are asking people to invest £9,000 a year on tuition fees, they should expect a credible return on that investment," said Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of Association of Accounting Technicians.

“Universities could support students by including some enterprise mentoring in undergraduate timetables. But the fact remains, young, enterprising people would be an asset to all our Big Society plans. Why not support them with a ‘Big Society Task Force’ initially funded for six months for each individual by government,” said Robert Ashton.

“The costs of large numbers of graduates, heavily laden with debt, growing despondent and pessimistic would be far greater.”