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Graduate Job Market is Best in a Decade

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The good news for the attentive audience of Bolton School pupils from Years 9 to 13 and their parents was that the graduate job market is currently the best it has been in the past decade according to a 2015 survey by High Fliers. The School’s packed Arts Centre enjoyed an enlightening evening soaking up the considered thoughts on the graduate job market from Martin Birchall, Managing Director of High Fliers Research

Mr Birchall 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. After university, 50,000 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; 75-100,000 will gain direct entry into organisations, large and small, where the applicant must have a degree. However, with over 375,000 students leaving university each year, this means, even in a good year, less than 1 in 2 students find a graduate role.

Despite recent gloomy headlines, including 83 graduates chasing every job, Mr Birchall said the number of graduate positions that need filling for the 2015 graduating class was at its highest in 10 years. He offered many practical tips throughout the evening including building a full CV and 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. 31% of every graduate position filled went to students who had already undertaken an internship with that company. Those students securing graduate positions had an average of 5 or 6 months’ work experience on their CV and this made them three times more likely to secure a position. By the end of the first year at university, 48% of students are actively researching their career. 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 the best 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 – this statistic 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. A High Fliers survey found that employers went in largest numbers to these universities to recruit from, in order: Manchester, Nottingham, Warwick, Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Bristol, UCL, Imperial and Leeds. 

Forty five per cent of students want to work in London and they want to work in these disciplines, in order: consulting, marketing, media, charity or voluntary work, research and development. Mr Birchall pointed out that the reality is there are much more well-paid jobs in ICT than some of these industries and this is often a much better field in which to seek employment. The top universities for placing students in graduate jobs, in order, are: Aston, Bath, Imperial, Loughborough and Southampton. 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, the retail sector and the armed forces. The biggest earning industries for students, in order, are: investment banking, law, banking and finance and oil.  Graduate starting salaries at the UK’s leading graduate employers are expected to increase for the second year running in 2015, reaching a median of £30,000 for the first time. 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 £30,000.

Martin also shared with the audience the top ten graduate employers as ranked by The Times; at number ten was the BBC, where you need to be able to prove you can do the job so experience in student radio or journalism is a must; he explained they do take 200-300 graduates each year but recalled when they offered 6 trainee journalist places and received 27,000 applicants!  Next in the table was KPMG who are taking 800 graduates this summer, then came Ernst & Young who are also taking 800 graduates, at number 7 in the table was the NHS, Europe’s largest employer with 1.2m staff, they were followed by Deloitte who are taking 1500 graduates this year, then the Civil Service (jobs have been ring-fenced during the economic downturn) who are taking 900 graduates, then Teach First, the single largest graduate employer, who are taking 2000 graduates, at number 3 in the table was Google who are recruiting 300 graduates this summer, followed by Aldi who take 120 graduates a year and where young people can expect to be managing 6 stores after the 12 months' training programme and be driving an Audi A4 with a £42,000 salary (Aldi are currently opening a new store each week) and the top employer, for the twelfth year in succession, was PwC who will be recruiting 1600 graduates this summer.   

Martin has been researching graduate recruitment at the UK’s leading universities for the last 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. 

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Martin Birchall is welcomed to the School by Alex Farrell and Elizabeth Cummings

Martin Birchall is welcomed to the School by Sixth Form students Alex Farrell and Elizabeth Cummings

Mr Birchall offered a thorough, insightful and thought-provoking presentation