Job Market – Mixed Messages

Mixed messages in the media about the job market for graduates are streaming in daily. While I was away last week, Holly, one of our Information Managers wrote a great blog post on our Manchester Graduate Blog which discusses what’s behind the press releases which hit the headlines, so I’ve included it here, with the addition of a couple of new items which have dropped into our in-boxes in the last 24 hours.

From “Manchester Graduate Careers“, 7th July 2010

“The last week has seen dozens of news stories reporting among other things that 10% of graduates are unemployed, that male UK graduates are ‘hopeless’ and that you might as well give up unless you got a 2:1 or better. You could be forgiven for thinking that you haven’t a chance of finding a job (especially if you are male and got a 2:2 or lower!).

These stories are the news outlets interpretations of recently released surveys and research.

Surveys reflect the opinion of a small number of repondents at a certain time. For example an Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) survey is reponsible for the figure that 78% of their members required a minimum of a 2:1. Apparantly this survey was conducted in May with only 200 employers. Several of my colleagues have just returned from a conference run by the very same AGR where many members were talking of dropping their entry requirements as they had unfilled positions which goes to show that even within the AGR there are different opinions.

It is also worth remembering that the AGR represents big graduate recruiters with graduate schemes. The vast majority of graduates do not get jobs with these companies and never have done. AGR does not include small and medium sized businesses or organisations in the public and not-for-profit sectors. Many graduates also get one-off advertised jobs rather than places on a graduate scheme.

Several positive messages in the same survey were ignored by the news outlets. For example recruiters in finance and accountancy anticipate a significant increase in vacancies.

The research showing that male graduates have a higher rate of unemployment than female graduates is based on data from the 2008 graduating class (so is not very current anyway) indicates that there is a 6% gap between the genders. The report speculates on a host of reasons why this might be the case – none of which are that the men in question are hopeless and most of which can be addressed through support from your Careers Service.

The job market is tight for graduates, but there are jobs out there. You have to apply to be in with a chance! It is (as always) important to make strong applications, if you don’t demonstrate what you can do you are likely to be passed over in favour of someone who has.”

My latest update – which survey to believe?
As well as Careers Service staff attending the AGR conference (to find out directly from employers what they’re thinking and planning), we’ve also been in contact with Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, another main source of stories about the graduate job market. Their survey reports have been much more upbeat, showing increases in graduate vacancies since last year.

There are differences in the way the AGR and High Fliers surveys are conducted, with High Fliers focusing primarily on the very large organisations who plan to recruit, on average, 150-200 graduates per year, whereas the AGR survey also includes many employers who recruit 25 or fewer graduates per year.

However, even where they’re covering similar types of employers, such as investment banking, there are widely differing results. High Fliers’ report indicated that investment banks were expecting a 30% increase in recruitment, year on year, whereas the AGR survey indicated a 9.3% drop in recruitment to investment banks. (I’ll just have to leave you to decide whether you believe anything the investment banks say…)

Not just “graduate schemes”
Of course, neither of these survey groups reflects the fact that the majority of postgraduates work for organisations who recruit one or two graduates or specialist postgraduates a year, and don’t have any sort of “graduate scheme”.

We don’t have any way of gauging the state of the job market for this large group of employers, but maybe one indication is the flow of vacancy ads to the Careers Service, which continues to gain pace.

(If you’ve read any of my recession posts over the last year, you’ll know the way our vacancy ads have consistently told a different, rather less negative story, compared to what you’ve read in the media, since the recession hit ).

We’ve just updated our monthly statistics, and the period August 09-June 10 shows that we’ve received over 20% more vacancy ads (for full time graduate jobs) than in the August 08-June 09 period (that is, from 3370 vacancy ads in Aug 08- Jun 09 to 4069 in Aug 09- Jun 10).

There are over 500 ads for full time jobs on our vacancy database at the moment – the job market is not completely without hope.

Public sector job market
We don’t, however, have a way of automatically tracking the public sector jobs we receive and comparing them with previous years, but we do expect that this will be badly hit, including in ways you might not anticipate.

Dr Charlie Ball from HECSU recently spoke to us about this subject and pointed out that many graduates who are unsure of which career direction to take, start out by filling one of the many general administrative posts in the public sector (local government, health service etc), before moving on to a “career” role, having gained valuable work experience. These are the jobs likely to be worst hit by public sector cutbacks so we may have a lot more graduates with minimal work experience, struggling to gain a foothold in the private sector.

You can get chapter and verse (and a whole load more – reliable – job market stats) on the HECSU blog, particularly Charlie’s recent posts on “Can I tell the future” and “Public funding cuts could leave graduates out of work


4 comments on “Job Market – Mixed Messages

    • Hi – and if you’re starting with us on your MSc in September, an early “Welcome” too!

      We do help our students find part-time work – our role at the Careers Service is to equip you with the skills, knowledge and information to enable you to find part-time jobs yourself once you’re here (this might be different to what you’re used to but is the way Careers Services operate in the UK).

      To help you do this, we have a section of our website on finding part-time work in Manchester ( which includes an on-line presentation from Scott Foley, who heads up our work experience team, with lots of hints, tips and links to further resources to help you.

      In particular, once you have your Manchester University computer account, you will be able to access our on-line vacancy system which has ads for part-time work, as well as full-time work. These are only a small percentage of the part-time jobs which there are in Manchester, but following our advice you should be able to seek out lots of other vacancies, including the majority which are never advertised.

      One word of warning though – the UK part-time job market is very much tougher now than it was before the recession. Employment figures released this week show that the number of people who are unemployed has fallen – but that there is a big rise in people in part-time work.

      Many people, including recent graduates, who would have only considered full time jobs in the past are now taking whatever part-time work they can find. This means that there are many more people competing for the part-time jobs which are available, so to have the best chance, you have to have a great application, the skills & experience asked for, and seek out the jobs which aren’t widely advertised (through contacts etc).

      We can help you learn how to put together a good UK CV (different to many other countries) with our downloadable handout on finding part-time work (Part-time jobs: Finding and Applying – pdf), and our quick query service where you can get feedback on your CV.

      Hope that gets you started, and if you’re starting your MSc with us in September, I’ll probably see you for an induction talk in your first week.

      Best regards

  1. Note to self: get better photo.

    Will be doing some similar overviews of the jobs market for PGs, probably next week when I’ve finished doing some data hacking.

    It’s always wise to put that health warning on AGR data, although I would stress that the CFE, who do the research for the AGR, are a first-rate group of researchers and if you are interested in the jobs that the survey covers, then it is a valuable guide.

    It certainly seems true that the number of vacancies have been picking up this year; although the public sector, including central Government, is starting to shed people (at the moment by not filling vacancies; I understand that, rather more relevantly for many PhDs, the same is true at the Research Councils).

    The unemployment rates for men and women graduates have always been different – I remember doing a piece for the BBC for it a few years back. For last year’s graduates, the unemployment rates were 3.8% for women with PhDs, 4.6% for PhD men, 5.8% for women Masters, 7.6% for men (there you go, a stats exclusive). However, when you look at the employment data, you see that women graduates are more likely than men to be in jobs that don’t require a degree. You can then start to form some hypotheses about gender-based employment-seeking strategies.

    • Note to Charlie: the piccie was an old one – thought you’d like to be reminded of when you were young, carefree and used to getting some sleep at nights (ie before kids!)

      The feeling my colleagues who attended the AGR conference got, from talking directly to employers (and other careers services) was that things were picking up in terms of jobs for the coming year, so we’ll just have to wait and see what transpires. The knock on effect of public sector cuts will have all sorts of unexpected outcomes, given the number of private sector enterprises which ultimately have relied on government spending, so there may be shocks to come.

      Look forward to reading your forensic unpicking of the postgrad jobs market!


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