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Satisfying employers’ appetite for graduates

  • 16 September 2019

This guest blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer, Institute of Student Employers

Employers report a substantial rise in the number of graduates starting on graduate schemes this year. They have also increased graduates’ pay to make these jobs attractive. It seems to be working as the average employer receives 50 applications for every job. But, the ‘graduate labour market’ doesn’t just come into being magically. In this blog we’ll look at how employers and universities collaborate to support students transition into graduate jobs.

Employers are recruiting more graduates

Despite the turbulent political climate, employers are continuing to recruit large numbers of graduates. While we might expect that in a world of Brexit and Trumpian trade wars, employers would be being cautious, our latest research suggests that their appetite for graduates is undiminished. In fact, this year we have seen a 10% growth in the number of graduates that employers are recruiting into graduate schemes.

In general, the kind of large-scale graduate employer who is a member of the Institute of Student Employers continues to value the graduates that universities produce. As well as increasing the overall number of people joining graduate schemes, we have also seen an increase in the average starting salary offered, which has grown by £750 to £29,000).
What is more, employers are happy with the graduates they are recruiting. Almost all respondents (96%) said that they could fill all of their graduate vacancies and more than half (58%) said that they could almost always find the quality of graduates that they wanted (with most of the rest saying that they were ‘often’ able to find good quality graduates).

There are some occupations where the picture is not so positive. A substantial minority (41%) of firms who want to recruit engineers are struggling to find the candidates that they need. A similar picture can be found with IT programmers and developers (39%), general IT roles (36%) and technical and analytical roles (35%). But, these are islands of skills shortages within a generally robust graduate labour market.

Attracting graduates

Our research also reveals that ensuring that the supply of students end up in graduate jobs takes a considerable amount of effort. Employers report that they spend an average of £3,310 to recruit every graduate. Every sizable graduate employer maintains a department that is dedicated to attracting and selecting graduates who will be able to contribute to the firm with many outsourcing some of their recruitment and drawing in additional help from freelancers.

To attract graduates employers run year-long marketing campaigns which mix face-to-face interactions, social media and web activity and various kinds of mailshot, posters and freebee give aways. In our survey we asked employers what the most effective approach for attracting graduates was. The most popular answer was to actually visit universities, which 58% of employers endorsed.

The importance of building partnerships with universities was underlined by the fact that the average employer reported that they were working with 23 universities and getting involved in a wide range of activities. They reported that careers fairs, employer talks and sending targeted emails were some of the most effective ways for them to work with universities to attract students to work in their firms.

Implications for higher education

There has been a substantial focus on graduate destinations in higher education over recent years. There are a wide variety of problems in seeing graduate employment or salary levels as indicators of the quality of higher education. However, this research highlights the fact that graduate transitions will not just take care of themselves. The graduate labour market is built out of partnerships between universities and employers and multiple interactions between students and employers.

Graduate employers have often been criticised for being overly focused on a minority of elite universities and that this in turn reduces social mobility. However, 46% of employers are prioritising social mobility as an issue with 38% changing the universities that they visit as a result and 27% running outreach events. But, to make use of these kinds of opportunities, universities have to be able to make a meaningful connection with these employers.

Most, but not all, of the ways in which employers seek to interact with universities depend on institutions having an effective and responsive careers services. Where employers have a clear point of contact they can build a strong relationship and increase their footprint on campus. This helps students to increase their awareness of the options that are out there and eases their transition into the labour market.

If universities want to seriously address graduate employability, they need to resource their institutional careers services and task them with building a meaningful partnership with a wide range of employers. If they are able to do this, we can hope to see the graduate labour market go from strength to strength.

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