Three recent pieces of research provide contrasting, and slightly confusing, evidence of contradictory trends in graduate recruitment.
Firstly, the trendence* UK Graduate Confidence Index, published on the 21st of September, suggests that students are less confident than they were at the start of the year. Based on a substantial poll, it shows that as a whole, over 2014, students are less confident about their chances of getting a graduate job. This is despite politicians and media generally reporting an improving economic outlook for the country at large. Male students are more confident than females and, unsurprisingly, those just about to graduate are less so than first years. Again unsurprisingly, this confidence varies depending on the degree, with medical students much more positive than social science students. Privately educated students were more confident than state school students and the north-west was where the most confident students live, with London being the least confident area. Overall, trendence claims to mirror the slow decrease in business confidence recorded in other surveys but does conclude that recruitment prospects for graduates are better than they were, but are still not as good as they would like.
Then we have the (OECD’s) annual Education at a Glance report, which shows that the UK is becoming a ‘graduate economy’. By this, it means more people are now likely to have a degree-level qualification than a school-level one. Some 41 per cent of adults had a tertiary qualification by 2012 and 50% of young women in the UK hold a university-level degree. This is higher than among 25-34 year-old women in France (47 per cent), Germany (31 per cent) and the US (48 per cent). So we definitely have more graduates, but does that absolute increase mean there are more people chasing fewer jobs?
Well, just to confuse things further, the BBC has just reported a “steep drop” in UK graduate unemployment, based on a survey by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (Hecsu), which analysed the destinations of 256,350 new graduates six months after they left university. Hecsu’s report tells us that 70% of new graduates were in a job by January 2014 and that more graduates were in professional and managerial work - 66.3% compared with 64.9% the previous year. Significantly, fewer were working as retail, catering, waiting and bar staff - down to 13% of the total from 13.7% the previous year. This, of course, begs the question of what degree is necessary for working in catering, waiting and bar work? Even more significantly, graduate employment in recession-hit sectors such as science has picked up slightly but many with science and technology degrees still find themselves in other jobs.
For BeIT, we note with interest that numbers of new graduates employed as science professionals in January 2014, while still small at just over 2,000, showed an increase of almost a quarter (22.4%) on the figures for 2013. There are seemingly more qualified people coming from STEM subjects into STEM careers. But we also noted that Hecsu’s research seems to contradict trendence as regards the geographical distribution of jobs/confidence, with their spokesman commenting, "There are significant increases in employment across all sectors and the turn in fortune is spreading beyond the South East with graduates in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester doing particularly well." This does not square with the idea that London is the least confident place, although it does seem to agree with the notion that students in the north-west are doing better at getting jobs and therefore more likely to be confident.
All in all, this shows the dangers of looking at different pieces of research from different groups on (broadly) the same subject. It should be noted that Hecsu’s research is based on the numbers unemployed at the start of the year, whilst the trendence survey is more current, so it is perfectly possible for things to have changed since the start of the year. In fact, Hecsu’s Deputy Director of Research said as much, when he described his own figures as "fascinating example" of how quickly the graduate jobs market can change. Moreover, trendence is looking to find out how many students are confident of getting a graduate job – not any job, which is what Hecsu’s survey analyses. Yes, it is confusing!
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing