Graduates face worsening job openings

Students graduating from Australian universities now face longer periods of unemployment and greater difficulties finding jobs for which their degrees have prepared them.

The latest figures from Graduate Careers Australia, or GCA, reveal that students who completed their degrees and entered the job market in 2014 were markedly less successful than their predecessors of past years.

The results are based on a national survey conducted annually with all Australian universities, along with a number of smaller private institutions. More than 180,000 new domestic graduates are contacted each year and asked to respond to the survey four months after they have completed requirements for their awards. Almost 110,000 replied, giving a response rate of 60%.

The 2014 survey found that among bachelor degree graduates seeking full-time employment, only 68% had found full-time work. This was a fall of more than 8% since 2012, while 20% who wanted a full-time job had only obtained part-time or casual positions, up by nearly 5% compared with two years earlier.

It seems likely that the flood of graduates pouring out of Australian universities has made the job market far more competitive and is affecting their chances of finding work. This follows a decision by the former Labor government three years ago to lift enrolment limits on universities – meaning the institutions could admit more students and thereby generate more income from government subsidies.

In the four years to 2013, the number of domestic students graduating from the nation’s higher education institutions jumped by more than 50,000 to 312,000 – a new record. But according to the GCA survey, 12% of bachelor degree job-seekers were unemployed and still looking for a full-time job four months after graduation in 2014, a rise of nearly 4% since 2012.

A report of the survey says that apart from new graduates taking longer to move into the labour force than they did prior to the global economic downturn, the current soft labour market conditions are also limiting growth in graduate starting salaries.

Median earnings for bachelor degree holders aged less than 25 and in their first full-time job rose by just US$50 (or 0.1%) from US$52,450 in 2013 to US$52,500 last year. In the past, similar surveys revealed that earnings could grow by almost 40% in the three years after graduation.

The GCA’s Beyond Graduation Survey, however, notes that the middle- and longer-term outlook “is very positive”, with employment figures for 2010 graduates increasing by 14 percentage points three years later.

This survey follows up with graduate respondents three years after their response to the first GCA questionnaire and asks about their current employment and salary levels. The results show that in 2013, the full-time employment figure for 2010 graduates was 90%.

“Bachelor degree graduates in the wider Australian workforce (aged 15-74) had at the time of the survey an unemployment rate of just 3.2% compared with an overall rate of 5.8% and 8.2% for those with no post-secondary qualifications,” says a report of the survey.

The report’s compilers note that the labour market prospects for new bachelor graduates fell in 2009 following the global financial crisis and these prospects did not change notably between 2010 and 2012 before falling again in 2013. They then fell even further last year.

In the years immediately after the crisis, the proportion of graduates available for full-time employment fell between 2012 and 2014, from 63% to 61% whereas in the years prior, the figure was about 66%. The report’s compilers say this suggests that in the current climate, some new graduates have been discouraged from seeking full-time work.

Yet the analysis found that the proportion of graduates continuing in further full-time study in 2014 was 21%, unchanged from 2013. Historically, between a fifth and a quarter of new graduates continue in further full-time study, the report says.

“As in the general Australian population, part-time work is an important employment option for some new graduates. In 2014, 13% of respondents were either in a part-time job or seeking part-time work and not seeking full-time employment.

“These are the highest proportions of bachelor graduates in the part-time labour market (and for those not available for full-time employment) seen in the past decade. Similarly, of graduates still seeking a full-time position at the time of the survey, around two in every three were working in a part-time position while doing so.”

The report says that domestic graduates from a non-English speaking background take longer to find full-time employment compared with the total group of graduates. Graduates with a combined or double degree, however, had better job prospects than those with a single degree.