Wide variation in graduate employment rates globally

The tiny island of Malta has a higher rate of new graduates having found jobs soon after leaving university than any other country in the European Union or the nations that are close by.

In a] comparison of employment rates among recent graduates aged 20-34 in the EU and associated nations, Malta leads the list with a remarkable 96% of its recent graduates in work.

Malta is followed closely by Iceland, another island country, with 95% of its recent graduates in employment. Then follows the Netherlands (94%), Germany (93%) and Norway (92.9%), among a list of 34 nations where figures are available.

Britain, however, falls outside the top 10 EU nations, with just under 90% of its recent graduates in work, pipped by Switzerland in 10th place with 90.4%.

In Australia, as the accompanying article shows, just over 70% of new graduates were in jobs four months after completing their university courses; and this rises to 90% in the three years following graduation.

Across the Atlantic, the unemployment rate of recent graduates in the United States in September 2018 was 3.6%. That is, 96.4% of recent graduates were in work, putting the US in front of Malta, Britain and another 32 nations across Europe.

Yet more than 40% of American graduates take up jobs that do not require them to hold a degree, according to one study. And more than one in five graduates were still not working in a degree-demanding job a decade after leaving university.

US graduate unemployment falling

But, as graduates continue searching for work more of them become employed, so the unemployment rate among American graduates aged 25 and older falls: By August 2018, graduate unemployment was down to 2.1%.

One American study discovered, however, that more than 40% of new graduates take on jobs that are not in their field of study and also do not even require a degree. And more than one in five were still not employed in a degree-demanding job a decade after graduating.

But having a degree does boost an American’s chance of finding work whereas not graduating from university lessens that prospect.

“Americans whose first job does not require a bachelor’s degree are significantly likelier than those whose first job did require such a degree to still be under-employed five years later,” says a report of the study.

“Many of those workers remain under-employed by this definition even 10 years after leaving college.”

Then there is the situation where graduates take up jobs for which they are over-qualified, usually to get into the labour market.

But while this boosts the employment rate for graduates, it also leads to a lowering of the rates for school-leavers and other non-graduates.

As the authors note, this may be particularly important if labour market demand is subdued, for example, following the onset of a global financial and economic crisis.

Pervasive problem

At the same time, however, under-employment among new American graduates has become a pervasive problem.

A report by the US analytics software company Burning Glass Technologies says the choice by undergraduate students of their major area of study is crucial.

“While STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] majors outperform others, there are good choices for students in all fields. But many of these majors, including popular majors such as business, legal studies, and public administration, have some of the highest under-employment rates,” the report says.

“This is troubling because these occupational majors account for four in every 10 bachelor degree awarded in the United States.

“Since 1970, the enrolment of students in these majors has increased 80%, compared to an 11% increase for STEM majors and a one-third decline in liberal arts majors.”

The report’s writers argue that acquiring specific workplace skills can add up to 20% to a graduate’s earnings and students in under-performing majors can significantly improve their prospects by selecting a ‘high-demand specialisation’.

They say that under-employment for business majors overall is 47%, but lower for those with specialisations in finance (33%) or marketing (41%).

Undergraduates should also “accrue meaningful and relevant work experience before graduating, such as internships and other work experience programmes that provide them with an opportunity to build skills”, the report’s authors argue.