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Graduates: work hard and be flexible

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New graduates with good personal skills, who are prepared to be flexible, are faring well in the job market. Others may fare much less well. As Institute of Employment Studies (IES) Director Richard Pearson commented:

‘The buoyant economy is working well for graduates with a good university track record and interpersonal skills, who are prepared to go where the jobs are. They are finding the professional and managerial jobs that they want. Along with good interpersonal skills, work experience can also be a real asset in subsequent job seeking. About two-thirds of graduates are in graduate level jobs by six months after gaining their degrees. So whilst it is a very significant advantage, a degree alone is not a passport to a career.’

Despite the rising costs of studying, the number graduating continues to grow. Nevertheless, some key subjects such as engineering and the physical sciences have actually fallen, and recruiters are short of IT and engineering graduates with the right interpersonal skills.

‘Good’ jobs for ‘good’ graduates
Employers want the best graduates; graduates want the best jobs. Richard Pearson explains:

‘Employers want graduates who are primed for work, able to communicate, share their skills, and appreciate their place in a wider organisation and its business. Graduates want jobs that exercise their abilities, confer status and commensurate pay, and a route for career development. Despite economic growth, the number of jobs offered by the major recruiters has not kept pace with the growth in supply of graduates. For many graduates a career does not happen straight away.’

The majority of graduates do enter employment, but many are in jobs that do not make use of their higher level skills. One in five are working in clerical or manual occupations six months after graduation, and after nine months, one in four are in temporary employment. Their salaries are equally diverse. A tiny few earn £35,000 pa or more, but many more are earning nearer £10,000. The median starting salary, irrespective of type of work, is £14,200, well below the average among the major recruiters, of £18,500. By comparison, teachers outside London now start on £17,000 and those in London on at least £20,000.

Going up, and growing up
The traditional stereotypes of undergraduates have gone. The undergraduate population has become much more diverse over the last decade, including more students from the ethnic minorities and more with non-traditional entry qualifications. However, the social mix is changing more slowly and the middle classes still predominate.

The costs of studying are also having an effect. More students are studying nearer home (especially outside the southeast). Whereas the traditional pattern was to ‘go up to university’ and then move on into new localities, the new pattern may be one of social consolidation. New graduates seeking good jobs must still be prepared to move out of their home areas, with a flexible approach to where their first graduate job may be. This latest annual profile on graduates from IES, however, shows that it is still well worth getting a degree in terms of employment outcomes.

A positive aspect of student financial pressures might be suggested by the prevalence of term-time working. Genuine work experience can be a valuable and broadening experience with which to back up job applications. Sandwich course placements have long been valued for the same reason.

The IES Annual Graduate Review
Since 1982, IES has provided an annual review of trends in the graduate labour market. This year’s review takes the form of three briefings:


  1. the supply side (The Diverse Graduate Supply)
  2. the jobs and experiences of those graduating and entering employment (Graduating into Employment)
  3. an in-depth examination of the position of those in IT, engineering and science (to be published later in April)

The Review draws on and synthesises a wide range of other published material, and is prepared for the IES Research Club, whose membership comprises 25 of the UK’s leading employers and graduate recruiters.

For further information
For further press information about this study and similar work within IES, please contact Richard Pearson on 01273 678184, or Andy Davidson in the IES Press Office on 01273 678322. The IES Annual Graduate Review briefings are available by clicking the links above.

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