Graduates face good job prospects

Employment prospects for graduates from UK universities are likely to continue to improve, according to the latest survey from the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, AGCAS.

It reveals that the vast majority (83%) of the heads of careers and employability services believe the graduate labour market improved further in 2014, with an increase in graduate vacancies.

Published at the end of the year, the survey found that more than a quarter of heads detected an increase in five key sectors: information technology; business consulting and management; marketing, advertising and PR; engineering and manufacturing; and accountancy, banking and finance.

Additionally, interest in self-employment has also risen with 25% of heads reporting an increased interest among graduates in pursuing self-employment as a credible alternative route to finding paid work.

The latest figures, based on outcomes rather than predictions, confirm that university graduates’ chances of finding a job had begun to improve by 2013, after the gloom of the financial crisis began to clear.

Compared with students who graduated in 2011-12, the unemployment rate decreased from 8.5% to 7.3% and the proportion in professional posts or postgraduate study six months after leaving university increased by 2%.

The generally accepted measure of the graduate employment market is the annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Institutions, or DLHE, survey, based on responses from graduates six months or so after leaving university.

The time taken to collect and process the data means that the latest survey, published in September 2014, relates to leavers in 2012-13.

It found that, of the 256,350 UK-domiciled graduates who responded, 70% were working (14% of them part-time), 6% were working and studying at the same time, and 13% had continued with further study or training.

The improvements had been predicted by graduate recruitment specialists. Their optimism was supported by confirmation that two-thirds of graduates are in professional employment or further education or training six months after graduation.

With memories of the financial crisis fresh in students’ minds and with tuition fees now up to £9,000 a year and student debts predicted to rise to £44,000 on graduation, job prospects have quickly become a key factor in selecting a course and a university.

Analysis of the 'completeuniversityguide' survey reveals that 12 universities had 2013 rates for professional employment or further study in excess of 80%, while six fell below 50%.

Four universities saw significant increases of more than 10 percentage points compared with 2012. The University of Sussex was the strongest climber, increasing from 54% to 75%. Another new university of the 1960s, Essex, increased from 51% to 64%, while a former polytechnic, De Montfort University, increased from 52% to 69% and the highly-specialised Royal Agricultural University increased from 57% to 72%.

Of the four universities falling by five percentage points or more, two were Scottish – Abertay Dundee (down from 66% to 60%) and Queen Margaret University Edinburgh (down from 70% to 62%). London South Bank University dropped from 55% to 49% and the private University of Buckingham was down from 83% to 75%.

A report by the Office of National Statistics detected an upward trend in the percentage of recent graduates employed in non-graduate type work: rising from 37% in 2001 to 47% in 2013.

The http://completeuniversityguide.co.uk analysis further shows that when recruits to medicine and nursing are excluded, the financial services industry is once again the main recruiter of university graduates into professional employment.

It places PricewaterhouseCoopers first, overtaking the preceding year’s table leader, the pharmaceuticals and retail giant Boots, in the process. And three other financial services companies dominate – Deloitte (third), and Ernst & Young and KPMG in equal fifth place. PwC recruited 370 graduates, and the other financial services companies all took on 200 or more.

The analysis excludes new graduate start-up businesses and smaller companies with fewer than four graduate recruits. Doctors, dentists and nurses are also excluded because they would normally seek employment within the NHS.

Another retail giant – the optical chain Specsavers – was fourth, recruiting some 240 graduates, with Tesco, twelfth, the next strongest retail performer. The Army, in ninth place, continues to be the top-recruiting public sector employer of graduates, up from 13th in 2012.

Rolls-Royce (seventh) and Jaguar Land Rover (ninth) represent manufacturing industry in the top ten recruiters.

Only the top 20 employers filled in excess of 100 posts, according to the DLHE, with a combined total of more than 3,470 recruits.

Critics of the DLHE survey say that six months after graduation is too soon to properly measure the impact of higher education on the labour market. Many graduates, they argue, are still orientating themselves at six months, or are looking for the perfect job.

They prefer the longitudinal survey that investigates graduate employment three-and-a-half years after graduation, contacting graduates who took part in the earlier survey. For the latest, graduates from 2009 were contacted in 2012. It shows that 87% were employed, 7% were in further study only and 3% were unemployed. In 2010, six months after graduation, 73% were employed, 15% were in further study only and 7% were unemployed.

The longitudinal survey is carried out every two years. The 2008-09 survey shows a small increase in the proportion of UK domiciled leavers employed or in further study, and a small decrease in the proportion unemployed compared to the 2010 survey of leavers from 2006-07. However the unemployment rate is still higher than it was for 2004-05 leavers when they were surveyed in 2008.

But the response rate is lower at 22% compared with 78% for the 2012-13 DLHE.