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Expert Advice in Understanding the Graduate Job Market

Monday, 12 June 2017

  • Understanding the Graduate Job Market
  • Understanding the Graduate Job Market presentation
  • Understanding the Graduate Job Market potrait

Martin Birchall, Managing Director of High Fliers Research, delivered a captivating and insightful presentation for students and parents of Bolton School which analysed the current graduate job market, helping focus minds on A level and degree choices and how best to create a compelling CV. 

The speaker opened his address by reminding the audience about the competition – whilst many parents would have been in a minority group when they went to university in the 1970s and 1980s (only 1 in 16 young people went on to higher education in the 1960s), today one in every two school leavers goes on to higher education. 

Mr Birchall said that, after university, 70,000 students will become doctors, nurses, teachers and vets; 25-30,000 will work for national employers in graduate positions in law, accountancy, sales and marketing, engineering and finance; and a further 75-100,000 will gain direct entry into organisations, large and small, where the applicant must have a degree. However, with over 400,000 students leaving university each year, this means, even in a good year, only 1 in 2 students secures a graduate role.  

The audience was informed that, despite increasing university tuition fees and student debt (which will average £37,700 for those graduating this summer), the number of school leavers going to university is at a record high and, with an average of 35 applications per job, competition in the graduate job market is fiercer than ever. Mr Birchall reflected on the findings of the latest research by High Fliers in a survey of over 20,000 current final year students at 30 leading universities and he offered a cautious outlook for the graduate job market in 2017, which he said had faltered as a consequence of Brexit. 28% of those surveyed had graduate jobs to go to, 14% will be continuing to look for graduate jobs, 3% will work for themselves, 5% will take up voluntary or temporary positions, 12% will take time off to travel, 26% will take a postgraduate course and 12% have no definite plans. 

Mr Birchall extended sage advice to pupils on how they can make the most of their university experience and what they can do now to prepare for graduate employment. He suggested building a full CV, not just an academic one. Pupils should show themselves as being capable of doing other things besides studying as companies want to hire people not qualifications. He told students they should consider joining clubs and societies, working on the university newspaper, travelling, voluntary work and, critically, internships. Almost one third of every graduate position filled went to students who had already undertaken an internship with that company. Almost half of the final year students had done an average of 7 months’ course placements, internships or vacation work, something that employers look favourably upon. Graduates are three times more likely to get a job offer if they have work experience or a placement on their CV. 

By the end of the first year at university, 48% of students are actively researching their career and a fifth did an internship with a graduate employer; 77% were actively job hunting in their penultimate year. The audience was told that employers are not always bothered about the course you have studied and in 70% of graduate jobs, the actual first degree studied did not matter. Mr Birchall said many pupils defer their career by looking to go on to study an MSc or PhD but he said unless it was a course specific to your career such as a PGCE then this did not necessarily help with your first starting salary – and you increased your student debt!

He told students to give themselves the best possible chance by enrolling on the best possible course – this being more important than choosing a particular university. Students were reminded to choose a subject they like and think they will do well at – most employers will only consider a 2:1 and above. As universities now charge tuition fees it is incumbent on each department to publish their record in placing leavers in graduate jobs – these statistics can be viewed on the Unistats website and should be carefully considered before enrolling on any course.  Medicine, Dentistry, IT and Law were all good examples of courses where students found jobs afterwards; students studying Drama, Film Studies and Computer Games had less success. Students were told not to worry if they were going to university without knowing what career they wanted to follow, typically only 10-15% of students knew what job they were aiming for and, as a result, chose a specific degree course. 50% of places in Law were held for graduates from non-Law backgrounds and 80% of places at the big four professional services’ firms went to graduates from a non-business degree background. 

The top universities for students having received a graduate job offer, in order, were: LSE (50%), Imperial (45%), Bath (45%), Warwick (43%) and Aston (41%). The sectors that actually take the largest number of graduates, again in order, are: accounting and professional services, the public sector, investment banking, engineering and industrial, banking and finance and the retail sector. The biggest earning industries for students, in order, are: investment banking, law, banking and finance and oil.  Mr Birchall reminded the audience that once they start earning £21,000 graduates must start paying back their student debt, which is currently averaging out at £37,700.  He said it was best to be looked upon as a graduate tax to be paid back over 30 years. 

The speaker also shared with the audience the top ten graduate employers as ranked by The Times; at number ten was GSK (who are taking 200 graduates this summer), at nine was Ernst & Young (who will take 850 graduates), next in the table was KPMG (taking 900 graduates this summer), then seventh in the table was the NHS, Europe’s largest employer (taking 200 graduates into managerial positions this summer), then came Deloitte (who are taking just 100 graduates), at number 5 was Google (recruiting 200-300 graduates), fourth was Teach First (with 1800 places), third was Aldi where 120 ambitious graduates can expect a £42,000 starting salary and an Audi A4, second was the Civil Service Fast Track Scheme (enrolling 1100 graduates) and the most highly rated employer, for yet another year, was PwC who will be recruiting 1200 graduates this summer. 

The survey found, as ever, quite a discrepancy in students aspirations and the reality. 46% envisaged working within the M25 but actually only a quarter of graduate jobs are in London. Most graduates wanted to work in consulting, marketing, media, research and development, and charity/voluntary work but in reality the highest number of graduate jobs are to be found in accounting and professional services, teaching and technology, which has increased the number of graduates it recruits each year for the past fifteen years. 67.1% of students expect at least a 2.1 and by the time they are 30 years of age, 2/3 expect to own their own flat or house, 55% expect to have lived or worked abroad, 52% expect to be married, 43% expect to have gained a further professional qualification and 17% expect to be earning at least £100,000! 

The survey also found that very few employers recruit solely on academic qualifications but will be looking for evidence of other interests, voluntary work and work experience and placements.  Over half of employers canvassed said it will be difficult for graduates to secure a job if they don’t have work experience. The average salary for graduates in 2017 is expected to be £24,300 with graduates commanding the highest salaries from these universities: LSE (£32,000), Cambridge (£28,500), Oxford (£28,000) and Warwick (£27,900). 

Martin has been researching graduate recruitment at the UK’s leading universities for over twenty years and is also the editor of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, the annual guide to the country’s most prestigious and sought-after graduate employers. Besides the aforementioned, he recommended A Parent’s Guide to Graduate Jobs by Paul Redmond.

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