Why we should be cautiously optimistic about student recruitment

Nov 16, 2023 | Home Featured, Opinion, Sector & policy

ISE’s Stephen Isherwood explains why the student recruitment market is robust despite economic pressures and the impact on advice for students.

When the economy isn’t in great shape, predicted 2023 growth is only 0.3%, employers typically reduce student hiring. But they’re not. The latest ISE Student Recruitment Survey is out and shows that student hiring increased by 16% in 2022/23.

And whilst we predict hiring for 2023/24 will slow, graduate vacancies should still increase by a healthy 5% and apprentice vacancies by 4%.

Our data prompts an obvious question, why? We think the main reason the student market is healthy is lack of skills. Employers from all sectors report a growing need for a range of skills such as digital and accounting skills.

The ISE data is backed up by government estimations that the UK economy simply needs an ever-increasing number of skilled workers, an additional 2.5 million by 2035 – that’s a million more than population growth will provide.

A note of caution

Although the overall trend is positive, some sectors expect to reduce hiring. Tech sector recruiters in particular are reducing graduate hiring by 5% and apprentice hiring by 9%.

Some jobs boards have reported that graduate roles are already down by nearly a third year-on-year.

The stark fall reported by others shouldn’t be taken at face value – scraped data doesn’t always capture number of vacancies attached to a post or can double count multiple job posts.

And just because a job advert doesn’t have ‘graduate’ in the text doesn’t mean it’s not a higher skilled role or that a graduate won’t get it. Employers may also be taking the word ‘graduate’ out of job posts as skills-based hiring practices expand.

But the reduction may also be a signal that smaller employers, those that don’t run structured graduate programmes, have reduced ad-hoc recruitment levels.

The tough economic environment is apparent in hiring costs. We measure cost-per-hire levels and employers spent £439 less on each hire in the last year. Recruitment budgets are being cut as employers seek to reduce spend levels.

We believe this is evidence of organisations reducing their cost base linked to concerns about a recession and other external economic and geopolitical pressures.

Advice to students

The uncertain recruitment market means students will need to engage in earnest in their job search. The perennial advice to cast a wide search net applies more than ever.

The tech sector may have fewer jobs but 62% of employers say they need to hire more digital and IT skills. You don’t need to work for a tech company to work in tech.

Students will need to be more resilient in the recruitment process. With graduate applications per vacancy already up year-on-year, students will need to apply themselves fully to each application they make and expect to work through more applications and rejections.

Our overall advice to students is to ignore the headlines, engage with careers services, develop skills and don’t be afraid to apply for jobs.

Even though the tech sector may cut back, hiring volumes should still be 95% of last year’s levels. And in 2023, employers hired more students than they said they would a year earlier.

An early New Year prediction is that ISE members, and students, are going to face a challenging year as targets grow more slowly and budgets remain tight. But employers have a long-term need to hire more people into highly skilled roles, so the student recruitment market will remain robust.

Be sure to keep up-to date with the ISE forums, WhatsApp groups, and events as we will continue to keep you informed on the latest student recruitment and development market trends.

We will be dissecting some of the findings on Insights over the coming weeks. You can download the ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2023 in full.

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