Should we stop trying to get graduates to move to London and start recruiting locally?

Dec 3, 2018 | Sector & policy

Our annual student recruitment survey found that around 40% of graduates recruited onto graduate schemes are headed straight to London. ISE’s Chief Research Officer Tristram Hooley asks, is it time to stop the brain drain and start recruiting locally? 

I grew up with the story of Dick Wittington. Dick, for those of you who have forgotten, was a poor boy from the country who set off to seek his fortune in London where, he was told, the streets were paved with gold. London turned out to be far less gilded than promised, but through hard work, adventurousness and a little luck involving a cat, Dick finds riches galore and ends up as Lord Mayor. 

When we published this year’s ISE recruitment survey we discovered that around 40% of graduates are still lured by the promise of London’s gold-paved streets. Graduate employers are enticing students to the nations’ capital with generous starting salaries and employment packages. 

When they get to London, graduates often find the cost of living difficult to cope with in their early career. Meanwhile local policy makers complain about the brain drain to the capital and national government is keen to ‘rebalance the economy’ (e.g. see the Centre for Cities report on The Great British Brain Drain). For employers, there are also obvious disadvantages to locating all of your staff in London, including the impact of a London base on both salary and office costs. 

Of course, there are also good reasons for locating businesses in London. These include the capital’s transport links, its proximity to the continent (although Brexit may change this), the concentration of certain types of industry in London and of course the glamour and culture that the capital has to offer. However, while this might mean that you want to maintain a head office in London, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this has to be the foci for all of your graduate recruitment. 

In a recent article Rosie Alexander argued for the importance of ‘spatial justice’ in thinking about careers. Just as we need to think about social mobility and diversity, there is a need to think about what businesses choices about where to employ people do to places. If employers suck all of the talent into London there is a danger that other communities feel that they are being ‘asset stripped’.

Since the publication of our report I’ve been talking to some employers who are thinking about setting up or expanding their graduate schemes outside of London. This kind of thinking has been given some national attention through the Office for Students who have recently launched a new competition to encourage universities to work with local employers to provide opportunities for graduates closer to home. 

If you are considering changing the geography of your student recruitment there is a lot to think about.

Firstly, you need to think about what options might exist for you to reorganise your recruitment. Would it be possible to base more staff or business functions in regional offices? Are you contemplating opening a new office or relocating your HQ? If so where? Every location has a different labour market and brings different opportunities and challenges. 

Secondly, one of the biggest shifts you might want to consider is whether you can increase the apprenticeship side of your recruitment. Apprentices are typically more geographically rooted than graduates and less likely to be in London. Our recent survey found that employers were increasing apprenticeship recruitment far more quickly than graduate recruitment and were typically only paying apprentices about 60% of the average graduate salary. 

Thirdly, you will need to learn more about the potential location that you are planning to increase your recruitment in. What universities and training providers exist in that area? What is the cost of living and what is the local labour market like? Thankfully there are a lot of resources that can help you to think these questions through. The Local Enterprise Partnerships provide an important source of local intelligence that brings together business, education and local government. Our recruitment survey provides insights on the regional breakdown of graduates. There is also a range of salary checkers online (e.g. see Total Jobs or the Office for National Statistics if you want the official story) which allow you to look at the average salary for different jobs and different areas. And the Higher Education Statistics Agency also provides a very useful tool that maps the flow of graduates into and out of different regions. 

There is a range of good reasons to think about the geographical focus of your student recruitment. Obviously, it is important not to under-estimate the challenge in rebalancing recruitment away from London and it is clearly something that can’t happen over-night. But, lots of people are thinking about these questions and it may be worth your business considering whether this offers any advantages for you.

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