What ever happened to the Class of Covid?

Nov 15, 2023 | Attraction & marketing, Home Featured, Research

The destinations of students who left university in 2020/21 tell us a great deal about graduates and the labour market and can provide useful insight for future hiring, explains Chris Rea, a graduate recruitment expert for Prospects at Jisc.

The 2020/21 graduating cohort had an extremely unusual experience. They spent a substantial amount of study time during the pandemic and emerged into the labour market just as restrictions were lifted.

With little opportunity to prepare for work, they faced a disrupted jobs market and a new hybrid way of working.

Many organisations will already have the Class of Covid in their employment, others will emerge after a period of further study or prolonged unemployment. Their destinations tell us a lot about graduates and the labour market impact of university. They also provide insight that can help future hiring decisions.

What do graduates do?
This year’s Prospects Luminate What do graduates do? has launched. It takes an in-depth look at HESA’s Graduate Outcomes survey, which captures recent graduate employment trends, and wraps them into an easy-to-read format. We ran an earlier article with ISE on why this data is so useful.

The latest issue offers valuable insight into the career destinations of the 2020/21 graduating cohort, 15 months after finishing university. Perhaps surprising, this group had some of the best employment outcomes we’ve seen in the short history of Graduate Outcomes since it began as a survey after 15 months.

The majority (81%) were employed either full time or part time, with full-time employment up on the previous year to 59.6%. A small number were working on an unpaid or voluntary basis, but only around 1%.

Meanwhile, 19% of the cohort were in further study, and of those, nearly half (44%) were taking a Masters. A quarter of the ‘work and further study’ group were taking professional qualifications while employed, such as legal or accountancy qualifications.

Just 5% were unemployed at the time of the survey, down 0.9 percentage points from the previous year, a very substantial fall for this figure over one year.

The large majority of working graduates were in professional-level employment, with almost all professional job categories seeing a rise in their share of employment.

What does this tell us?

Resilience and adaptability of graduates
The pandemic did not present a major career setback for graduates. The strong employment outcomes of this cohort signal the quality, adaptability and resilience of those with a degree.

These qualities are a welcome addition to any organisation and come into their own when workers are required to take on new environments or ways of working.

Most notably, hybrid working has become more important. At the end of March 2023, the Office for National Statistics’ BICS survey showed that 29.2% of the UK workforce was working in a hybrid or wholly home-based way, and this figure had remained relatively stable since the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, around 12% of the workforce was estimated as working in a hybrid way. However, in the IT industry, this rose to 78% of workers, and 64% in the business services sector. Both these industries are overwhelmingly staffed by graduates.

The National Foundation for Economic Research estimated that 44% of graduates were hybrid working in 2022. This year’s ISE Student Development Survey showed the majority (72%) of employers expect graduates work at home one or two days a week. It seems likely that the ability to work in a hybrid, flexible way will be more common for graduates than non-graduates.

Supply of skills into the labour market

Business demand for workers becomes more acute after a period of economic downturn as employers look to increase hires to support growth. With the large majority of graduates in professional employment so soon after lockdown restrictions were lifted, it’s clear that skilled workers are highly sought after.

Annual Population Survey data shows that in 2022, the number of people working in graduate-level employment in the UK rose by 469,800 – effectively an entire graduating cohort. Jobs below degree level fell by 165,400. The demand for graduates is strong and apparently increasing.

The skills required to reflect changing circumstances and boost UK productivity are evident in What do graduates do? With the pandemic abating there were fewer graduates going into healthcare such as nursing. The big winners were business, HR and finance, which had an urgent and high demand for skilled workers. Engineering, IT and the arts also saw healthy rises.

Employers can use the data to make informed decisions about future recruitment. Analysis shows the types of work students go into from different subject areas, some of the destinations are diverse and not sector specific. For example, science and engineering roles are in the top 10 destinations for creative arts graduates, meanwhile HR is a top 10 destination for media studies graduates and the third most common destination for those with a philosophy degree is finance.

What do graduates do? 2023 shows the destinations of a unique group of graduates, but it also attests to the value of a degree, the available skills to the labour market and the qualities and attributes graduates bring to business.

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