UK Graduate Jobs Market ‘Toughest In Decades’

This summer, thousands of graduates will enter the toughest jobs market seen since the 1980s.

Research by High Fliers has found that the number of graduate jobs on offer has fallen by 28 per cent. The survey of 100 top graduate employers found that almost two-thirds of employers have downgraded their recruitment targets and half of these have cut at least 50 places from their schemes for university-leavers.

Opportunities for final-year students have dropped for the second consecutive year, with vacancies dropping by 6.7 per cent in 2008 and the total number of graduate jobs falling by 13.5 per cent in 2009.

‘Toughest Markets But Public Sector & Accountancy Doing Well’

On average, the UK’s top employers have received 45 applications for each of their available graduate jobs, which is up by a third compared to last year’s figure of 35 submissions per position.

“The ‘Class of 2009′ is facing one of the toughest job markets of the last two decades and there is now the very real prospect that tens of thousands of new graduates will be left unemployed after leaving university this year,” said Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, with the public sector and accountancy firms employing significant numbers.

Accountancy and professional services firms saw the lowest number of applicants per vacancy, with just 15 university-leavers going for each job, which may prompt graduates to consider accounting courses in London.

‘Crisis Awaiting Graduates.’

Further research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that the number of graduates who failed to find work after leaving university in 2008 stood at eight per cent, up from six per cent a year earlier.

“These figures foretell the crisis awaiting graduates this summer as a result of the recession,” said Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students.

“Students are racking up thousands of pounds of debt because of fees, and many will be extremely worried at the lack of job prospects when they leave university,” he added.

According to the figures, just under a third of graduates went into associate professional and technical occupations last year, 27 per cent were listed in professional jobs, 12 per cent were doing administrative and secretarial work and 11 per cent were in the sales and customer service sector.

The HESA also found that students taking less practical courses such as creative arts and history were among those less likely to secure employment after university, compared just 0.2 per cent of medicine and dentistry graduates who were out of work.

The Need For Employability.

It is a theme that many organisations have been picking up on, pointing to the fact that a large proportion of graduates leave university without practical qualifications that will serve them in the world of employment.

“I think the jury is out on whether the graduates are coming out with higher skills,” said Dr John McGurk, advisor in learning and talent development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

He highlighted the need for “employability” attributes such as the ability to manage yourself and handle conflict, plus demonstrate innovation and creativity.

“The real issue is that employers are seeing that there is a lack of those kind of skills among graduates.

“There is a lack of self-starting initiative and motivation, mainly because people have been over-trained to rely on their degrees to provide them with the competence which employers want.” Mr McGurk continued.

” It is these kinds of qualities that can be demonstrated through extra qualifications, which indicate a desire to better oneself.”

Skills Development.

Meanwhile, Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, has emphasised that those looking for work need to remain active.

“Make sure you are still out there making contacts in the world of work. Work experience is a good way of doing that and wouldn’t conflict with any benefits you may be claiming,” she said.

“For other workers who have more of a track record in their career and are looking to switch careers they might want to combine work experience with a course or any training they are doing to help them move in to that new field.

“This would allow them to make contacts and try out new skills in that sector,” she continued.

Dr McTurk echoed this sentiment: “It is absolutely vital that people develop skills and capability in difficult times because to be ready for change, you need to be continually learning and developing.”

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