Graduates are weighing up their options as they look forward to entering a particularly competitive jobs market due to rising unemployment and recruitment scheme cutbacks.
Recent research by High Fliers has found that many university-leavers are very pessimistic about their career prospects as the economic crisis worsens, with half of final-year students saying they feel they have little confidence in finding work.
A subsequent study by the researcher, entitled the UK Graduate Careers Survey 2009, found that a quarter of the 16,357 final-year students surveyed intended to stay at university to study.
The report said that confidence in the graduate jobs market is at an all time low, with the number of students who have managed to secure work falling by a third.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that last year, eight per cent of students were in a combination of work and study, while a further 17 per cent were involved in continued study, up from 16 per cent in 2007.
Many universities are now reporting surges in applications for postgraduate courses as finalists look to avoid the competitive graduate jobs market until the economy starts to recover and more vacancies become available.
In addition, a recent report by government think-thank million+ warned that as many as 40,000 young people looking to enter higher education for the first time could be left without a place as the demand for university study far outweighs the number of positions available on courses.
“The recession and a peak in the number of 18-year-olds has led to an unprecedented rise in applications which universities currently are not funded to meet.
As employment rises to three million, this demand will continue into 2010,” said Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the million+.
It is not only universities that are seeing a surge in applications, however. Around this time of year, training centres offering more practical qualifications tend to find that there is an increase in interest in their courses and this year is seeing a particular rush on the back of the tough jobs market.
“We are currently enjoying double the enquiries we had at this time last year,” says Keith Wymer, of Pitman Training in London’s High Holborn and Notting Hill, which offers typing courses, secretarial training, bookkeeping courses, and legal secretary courses and especially, a Microsoft Fast Track Diploma For Graduates.
“From mid-August to the end of October, we will probably have about 1,200 applications to study with us compared with a normal month where we would have 300,” Mr Wymer adds.
He says that people looking for the likes of bookkeeping courses and secretarial trainingare better off enrolling immediately rather than waiting till September, as they will be the first job candidates to have practical skills.
“It’s a question of being prepared before the other graduate job seekers,” he says.
“I think the current crop of graduates are going to find it exceptionally difficult to find a job that matches their expectations,” says Tom Usher, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies.
“The numbers of graduates are ever-increasing and traditional graduate employers are freezing graduate recruitment or at least reducing it quite significantly,” he adds.
“With so many applicants going for every job you will find that employers can be choosy about who they take,” Mr Usher states.
He explains that those people who are traditionally disadvantaged in the labour market, such as younger or older applicants and those who are less skilled, are likely to find it particularly difficult to get a job in the current climate, highlighting the need for training.
Mr Wymer adds: “There are definitely more people looking to upskill at the moment because the jobs market is so tough.”
“Having demonstrable, practical skills mans you stand out from the crowd and it shows you’re more motivated than the average job seeker,” he continues.
This is particularly important for graduates, says Mr Wymer.
“Everyone with whom you’re competing for a job will have a degree similar to yours. If you want to stand out, you need skills as well as knowledge.”
“Employers haven’t got time to teach you to type or to use MS Office to a commercial level so they’ll hire the candidate who can be effective straight away in preference to one who will be a drain on their time and training budget,” he insists.
He further adds “A lot of graduates are under the mistaken impression that they can get free, government funded training for these skills but most of them can’t.”
” At the same time, the handful of people we meet who have received free or subsidised training definitely don’t have them to a high enough standard to hold down a job.”