Review of Public Sector Employment

Shock development – newspaper implicated in even-handed discussion about employment prospects.

Credit where credit’s due, I thought this Guardian article about the future for public sector employment avoided the extremes of “public sector bloodbath” and “the private sector will see us alright” to give a rounded view how work might change for those interested in the public sector (and I speak as someone who’s criticised their employment analyses before).

More outsourcing
There’s a lot of discussion about the public sector focussing on commissioning more services from outside agencies. Whether this will result in outside agencies providing “fewer jobs, worse pay, worse conditions, less training and poor service” as predicted by Heather Wakefield from the public sector union Unison, or whether in future “government departments will focus more on policy than operations” as envisaged by Andy Robling from recruitment agency Hays, isn’t known. If it’s the latter, this may make the public sector even more attractive to postgrads keen to make an impact on public policy.

How many public sector workers?
I haven’t had chance to dig into their sources to verify this, but there is a claim that even if the government manage to cut public sector employment by their goal of 410,000, it will still leave the number employed by the public sector at the same levels at 2003. Of course, this affects real people and real jobs, and potentially wipes out a lot of the public sector growth of the last few years, but that figure surprised me, given politicians’ rhetoric.

As ever, have a read and make up your own mind, but the overall thrust of the article was that the public sector isn’t (yet) closed to smart, new entrants.


Economy Down, Grad Recruitment Up

As a counter to the depressing economic news today, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) has issued its Winter Survey 2011, and the news is not too bad (it doesn’t feel like a day for getting over-enthusiastic…)

In November 2010, 222 AGR members gave the actual numbers of graduates they had recruited in 2009-10.This was up 8.9% on the previous year. Don’t get too excited though, because the previous year was 8.9% down on the one before that.

So, we’re now back to where we were in 2007-8. Still, it’s better than being “at an all-time low”.

They also predict that their recruitment figures will be up by 3.8% for 2010-11. However, as they originally predicted (just this Summer!) that the 2009-10 figures would show a 6.9% drop (as opposed to the 8.9% rise which actually happened) I’m not getting over-excited by any of their projections for this coming year.

But what about pay?
What, you want to know about salaries? Median graduate salary flat for two years, at £25,000 – and not predicted to rise. And now you’re back to being depressed.

So, No Internship Means No Job?

If you believe the “hell in a hand cart” hype in some of the press over the last day or two, many of you will be weeping into your oversized Starbucks cappuccinos. All your hopes of getting a job now lie crushed beneath the feet of all those graduates who could afford to take the unpaid internships which are now essential for any decent career. Or not.

One of the things we worry about as careers consultants is how to help our students unpick the mixed messages they receive about the job market. Any regular readers know this is one of my hot buttons, so here goes:

The High Fliers Research report
Yesterday, the High Fliers Research report on “The Graduate Market in 2011” was released. This is a regular report on the vacancies and salaries expected to be offered this year by 100 of the “top” organisations who recruit graduates (ie the big names). This only covers a small proportion of those organisations who recruit graduates and postgraduates – none of the high tech university spin-out companies, specialist and boutique consultancies, medium sized engineering companies etc. However, the report is reputable and does have some useful comparisons with previous years’ surveys, so we can see the impact of the recession and any recovery.

How it was reported
An “influential newspaper*” has reported the following facts which I would question:

Questionable fact 1: “Interning is the only way to get a job now
Do they mean that getting an internship with an employer is the only way of getting a graduate job with that employer? If so, the High Fliers report contradicts that.

Yes, investment banks expect 53% of their graduate vacancies to be filled by students who were interns with them, but for consulting that’s only 16% and for the public sector, that’s 17%. Maybe this is something to do with the fact that investment banks actually offer more internships than new graduates places, well over twice the number of internships than any other sector surveyed (over 3,200 this year).

An internship or work experience?
OK, maybe they meant that you have to have done some sort of internship to get any job. It’s true that 60% of these big, popular employers said they were “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to offer a job to graduates who had “no work experience”. But what counts as work experience?

The word “internship” arrived relatively recently in the UK and is often associated with a carefully managed fixed term placement, learning how to do a job. These are great if you can get one, but such “schemes” are very much in the minority: most students and graduates get their work experience by, well, working – vacation work they picked up through a local contact, a part-time sales job as an undergrad, setting up a simple supplier database for their family’s small take-away business – it doesn’t even have to be paid to count. Most employers are keen to find out what you learnt by being challenged at work, even if it was in a different sector.

It’s always been true that you struggle to enter the UK job market as a graduate if you don’t already have any sort of experience of turning up for work and doing something productive which doesn’t directly benefit you (other than you might get paid for it). I suspect 60% of similar employers would have given the same answer any time over the last 10 years.

Paid or not?
After saying that you need to get an internship to get any job, the news site continues:

Questionable fact 2: “But with most firms offering unpaid internships, it is feared middle-class and poorer graduates will miss out on top jobs.”

It is true that in some extremely popular sectors, particularly the media and politics (which is what newspapers know about), it has always been the norm to try to get in by working unpaid. It hasn’t been the norm in most other forms of work. I’d be surprised if any of the “leading companies” they quote for the rest of the report expect their interns to work unpaid  (apart from short “taster” experiences, where you get a week or two to find out more about the company).

The article claims that “the law on pay for internships is a grey area” – or to put it another way, it’s normally illegal not to pay workers, given minimum wage legislation. However some sectors have always relied on unpaid volunteer work (media, politics, voluntary sector) and they’re now being used to justify other organisations jumping on the bandwagon saying they want to do that too. This is an area where careers services amongst others are fighting to stop the drift into a culture where it’s the norm not to pay for work, just because it’s done by students and recent graduates.

And to reassure you,

we currently have 211 adverts on our CareersLink system for student or graduate internships or placements

only a handful of which are the unpaid taster type of internship – the rest are paid.

Who’s up, who’s down?
This is where I wonder if journalists just can’t do sums.

Questionable fact 3: “However the outlook for undergraduates wishing to work in engineering, industry or investment banking is bleak. The number of jobs on offer in these sectors is expected to hit an all-time low this year.”

I don’t have the figures as reported by High Fliers for 2007, though I suspect it’s true that the 100 large employers surveyed in sectors like investment banking and “engineering and industry” are still planning to have fewer graduate vacancies than in 2007.

However, the pattern of actual and expected recruits since 2007 doesn’t look like we’re heading for “an all-time low this year” in either of these sectors (figures taken from the last three High Fliers Research reports):

Dec 2008 

actual recruits

Dec 2009 

actual recruits

Dec 2010 

actual recruits

Dec 2011 

expected recruits

Engineering and industrial 1311 838 831 1041
Investment banking 2489 1583 2116 2655

Engineering has obviously been badly hit but expects to make a recovery this year. Investment banking has already bounced back from its low of 2009 (which I suspect was much higher than 2002/3, a real low point in graduate recruitment).

Who should you believe?
I’d suggest that as postgrads, you’re used to critically evaluating data, so before you base important life decisions on someone else’s interpretation of the facts, you go back to the original sources and make up your own mind. Or at least find some other interpretations and use your judgement.

* I really don’t want to drive traffic to this news website; suffice to say it rhymes with FAIL.

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

Postgraduate Allsorts – Something For Everyone

I’m back, after being submerged under a mound of undergraduate marking, so it’s time for a round-up of miscellaneous postgrad careers snippets:

Careers events for all, coming up
Our new programme of events targeted at those due to graduate soon has now been announced. Although it’s branded as our “New Grad” programme (pdf), I know that many of those attending in previous years have been postgrads. This year, starting on 7th June, we’ve got sessions on:

  • Writing CVs, Interviews and Assessment Centres
  • Employer-led skills sessions on “Commercial Awareness” and “Presentation Skills”
  • A wide range of other topics including using recruitment agencies in your job search, staying in Manchester, being your own boss, options for humanities graduates, “options in finance, business, accountancy and management in the current economic climate”, opportunities in the public, voluntary and charity sectors, job hunting for international students and more.

The programme runs until 17th June, but most sessions will only run once – check our calendar of events for full details.

From the Association of Graduate Recruiters Finance employers presentation this week:

  • Don’t believe all the media gloom about graduate jobs; 1 in 4 jobs with these major financial recruiters went unfilled last year

Public Sector
In the public sector, jobs are, not surprisingly, looking much more difficult to find:

  • Holly, our Information Manager, has blogged about Public sector cuts – and vacancies, on our Graduate blog.
  • Looks like you’re OK if you’re already in line for a Fast Stream Civil Service job this year, but no word yet on how Fast Stream will be affected next year. If you’re worried, come and talk to the representatives from the Cabinet Office attending both the main Graduate Fair, and the PhD Zone on Wednesday 16th June – that is, if they don’t pull out…

Mental Healthcare
If you’re interested in healthcare, specifically supporting people with mental health issues, the new Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)  jobs have just been announced. These are new roles open not only to psychology postgrads, but also to other graduates if you can demonstrate experience in mental health work through a portfolio. There are two types of role with differing entry requirements – Trainee High Intensity Therapists and Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners. East Cheshire NHS Trust is coordinating recruitment for the whole North West. For more information see:

Did you know we run a Media Club blog for University of Manchester students & graduates? Louise Sethi, one of our Careers Consultants who had her own career in the media, is now posting regular updates, plus we’ve a Twitter feed (@mcrmediaclub) and a page on the blog with lots of info and links on working in the media.

Interested in becoming a (medical) doctor?
You should be thinking about applying for your UKCAT test if you want to apply to one of the 26 universities in the UK which use this as an entry requirement for graduate entry to medicine. Sophie has written a blog post on our Medical Careers blog all about it.

Want to know all about getting into medicine after your postgraduate degree? Have a look at our Graduate Entry to Medicine handout (pdf).

Now back to sorting out the Pathways event for PhDs (you had heard of that, hadn’t you…?)

Latest On Job Market

In the week that the UK jobless total reached 2.51 million, you might be worried if you’re due to graduate this year.

No-one can give you any guarantees, but our latest review of job ads sent to the Careers Service doesn’t give you quite the same picture.

There are all the usual caveats about this measuring “numbers of job ads sent to the Careers Service”, not number of jobs out there (for previous discussions on this, see previous posts on the impact of the recession).

However, since October, this year has consistently kept ahead of last year and even occasionally been higher than our previous “bumper years” of 2006/7 and 2007/8.

Looking at the cumulative picture from September to April, there has been an overall 16% increase on last year, only a 4% drop from the high point in 2007/8.

Add to this the fact that we’ve got almost 170 employer stands now taken for the summer Graduate Fair (16th/17th June) – and 9 confirmed employers for the PhD Zone at the Graduate Fair on 16th June (with more “hot leads” looking likely).

Things are undoubtedly going to get more difficult if you’re looking for a job in the public sector, but outside that area, it’s certainly not a lost cause.

Jobs Update – The Long View

I’ve been looking for the catch in the job ad data I showed in the last post. Frankly, this year doesn’t look very bad if you compare the number of job ads we’ve received this autum to the previous two years. However, if you take a longer term perspective, it’s easier to see the impact of this recession.

I’ve compared the total number of ads we’ve received in a whole year (running September to August) for each year where we have data, which means another graph to add to the festive spreadsheet (my Christmas treat to myself – sad stats nerd that I am). Just click on the graph if you want to get a clearer picture.

Turns out that although 2007/8 was our best start to the recruitment year, 2006/7 hung on in there and overtook it over the final furlong (May-August) to finish with the highest annual total.

Crisis of Confidence

Last year there was a real wobble in recruitment confidence in February which only really climbed back to previous levels in June. (I have to wonder if this was partly a reaction to all the press stories in January about how dire the graduate job market was – we didn’t see a downturn until after all the tales of recruitment meltdown.)

However, overall, you can see why it felt so bad last year. We’d had a couple of bumper years for job ads being sent to the Careers Service, and last year was much lower. Now, if I was a “glass half empty” sort and looking for a good headline, I’d be shouting about “job ads down 20%” (last year compared to 3 years ago). Alternatively, if you take a slightly longer perspective, you could talk about “job ads up 24%” (last year compared to 5 years ago), and that’s not even going back to the real dark days of 2002/3.

The Recency Effect

As an illustration of the way that recency can have an overwhelming effect on people’s perceptions, I recently ran an exercise with some of our postgrads, where they had to come up with a list of the “moments in the last century” which had had the greatest impact on people.

At least two groups had the current recession at the top of the list – beating two world wars, the previous Great Depression, the rise of communism, and many other less Eurocentric views of history. These were smart people (though with a slightly flaky grasp on modern history, I’ll grant you) but the worry generated by today’s turmoil really impacted their perspective on the world.

Is Any Generation Really “Lost”?

For those graduating in the last year or so, it must feel incredibly unfair that those graduating just a year or two before had such a relatively easy time of finding a job. However, if any group of graduates should feel aggrieved, given the data we’ve been collecting, it looks like those who graduated in 2002/3 had the really tough time (before you even start to look at previous much deeper recessions).

If you’re feeling worried about how to find work this year or next, see if you can talk to someone who graduated 6 or 7 years before you and find out what strategies they used which worked for them – and keep subscribing to our vacancy service to take advantage of those ads which are still (keeping my fingers crossed here) streaming in.

Are There Any Jobs – Autumn 09?

I thought it was time to get my graph paper out again, and review how the job market has been holding up so far this academic year. I’ve just realised that my first post on the vacancies coming into the careers service was exactly one year ago today, so it’s a good time to compare year on year.

We have a record of the vacancy ads sent to the Careers Service going back about 10 years, and 2007-8 was our best year ever – just before the financial meltdown. Last year was obviously lower, but surprisingly, not by much, in spite of media gloom about graduate employment.

So, we wondered if this might be the year that things really got desperate (as graduate unemployment has lagged general unemployment in previous recessions). Here’s what we’ve found:


  • You can click on the image to get a larger version which is easier to read.
  • This only includes full-time graduate and postgraduate job ads, and only those ads which have been sent to the Careers Service for us to advertise to our students and graduates/postgraduates.
  • Week 39 corresponds to Induction / Freshers week in September, week 49 is last week.
  • I’ve shown the cumulative number of ads, as that smooths out the natural variation each week, and it’s easier to see the year on year comparison.
  • I’ve included year 2002-3 (the blue column on the right hand side of each set of bars) as that was the last real downturn we had in the jobs market before this one – you can see that the number of ads we received back then was significantly lower than this year or last year. We haven’t done anything to change the way we solicit adverts, though it may be that more advertisers have got wise to the fact that they can advertise with us for free, particularly sending us their jobs through our on-line form.
  • This doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of jobs being advertised, as one advert can be for 600 jobs (for example, announcing a big national graduate recruitment scheme) or 1 job. However, most ads with multiple jobs are posted in the early autumn, so once this bulge has passed, most ads are for one or two jobs only.

So you can see, although we had a slower start to the academic year, as recruiters were cautious (and some dropped out altogether), by mid November, we’d started to overtake last year’s total (at the same point) and we’ve since been on a par with two years ago, our bumper year. Yes, there’s always time for it to go horribly wrong – but if I was a job hunting postgrad at Manchester University, I’d go into the New Year with cautious optimism that getting a job this year or next wasn’t a lost cause.

Finding a Job For Postgrads – Audio & Slides

At last, I’ve managed to find a way to put not only the slides from my recent talks, but also an audio commentary, on the web and link the blog directly to it.

I’ve split the talks I’ve been doing this week into three parts, but you can also skip forward and backwards in the presentations as you watch and listen, so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing all the way through if you don’t have time.

Part 1 gives you some real data on the state of the job market, what employers think of postgraduates and some ideas of the types of jobs you could target. Part 2 looks at how employers fill jobs, and gives you strategies for finding jobs beyond just looking at adverts, including (the most important careers secret, I think) how to use your contacts to get the lucky breaks. Finally, Part 3 tells you about the further support we can give postgrads, including answers to some of the questions I got this week when I did the Masters and PhD presentations in person.


If you watch/listen to these slidecasts (as they’re called), I’d love to have your feedback on whether they’re worth doing in future. They take a bit of time to do, but if they’re useful to you, I can have a go at the other talks (eg. on CVs, Interviews and Assessment Centres). Alternatively, I can just continue to upload the slides on their own. As ever, just drop me a comment (or a tweet) if you’ve got something to say.

So, without further ado, just don your headphones or turn your speakers on to hear all about how to get a job for postgraduates.

Part 1 – Postgrads and the Job Market

Note: If you want to click on the links on the final slide, you’ll notice that you need to click in the centre of the slide, or the little hand changes to skip backwards or forwards to the next slide.

Part 2 – Finding the Job You Want

Part 3 – Careers Support For Postgraduates

Latest on Postgrads & Recession

So far there have been 6 articles on the job market for researchers posted on the Vitae website, and although the focus is on researchers, they include useful information of interest to all postgrads.

Shiona Llewellyn (made sure I spelt that correctly – you’ll understand why if you read her article) has some insights on how recruiters select candidates for consultancy jobs. She acts as a retained recruitment consultant on behalf of employers, so is ideally placed to let you know what it takes to get through the first cut. If you don’t make it through her filter, the employing organisation will probably never see your application.

I’ve also had an article published on the variability of the job market and ideas (beyond “look at the job ads”) for what you can do to get lucky in your job search. It includes some hints on breaking into a tough job market which I haven’t blogged about so even if you’ve been following the blog or read our Recession pages, still might be worth a click.

Just to back up my assertions that not all graduate and postgraduate recruitment has disappeared, here’s the latest update from the job ads still being sent to the Careers Service at Manchester. The usual caveats apply (see my original post on what the stats might hide, plus all the earlier posts on the job market for the running commentary on the recession), but here are the stats for January to the end of June.

First, the number of new job ads for full-time jobs sent each week to the Careers Service. The graph below compares this year, last year (our best year for jobs) and 2002-3, the last “downturn year” (click on the image to see a larger version).


The next graph shown below (the cumulative number of full-time job ads we’ve received), irons out the volatility of the weekly figures:


I know there are people losing jobs right now. I know there are fewer jobs on offer generally. However, it’s difficult to be a total gloom merchant when you see evidence like that. All I would say is, “Get ’em while it lasts”. In previous recessions, graduate unemployment has lagged behind the economic recession so next year might be worse.

And on that cheery note, I’m off on hols for a couple of weeks, so don’t expect me to post unless I’m really bored, fed up with the weather or I find the odd off-topic video which I can’t resist sharing.