You’ll never believe these 10 facts about student recruitment in 2019

Dec 19, 2019 | Sector & policy

It has been a long year with lots of political twists and turns. Tristram Hooley, ISE Chief Research Officer, uses this year’s data to discuss what has really been happening in student recruitment.

The value of data is that it helps us to move beyond anecdote and feeling, which is why ISE invests in so much of it throughout the year. I’ve sifted through all of the research that we’ve published in 2019 to offer 10 surprising facts.

  1. ISE members weren’t too worried about Brexit: Back in January only 30% of our members reported that Brexit would change their recruitment plans. Although 49% had some concerns that Brexit would make recruitment more difficult, these concerns were generally related to very specific skill sets. By the end of the summer still only 34% of our members reported that Brexit would change their future recruitment plans. All of this is just as well now that Brexit looks (almost) certain.
  2. Employers still can’t spend their apprenticeship levy: In our Development Survey in April, employers reported spending an average of 33% of their levy funds. By the end of the summer this had risen to 37%, but there is still a long way to go. Our apprenticeship report revealed that employers feel that there are some serious problems with the apprenticeship system and that unless these are addressed, they are unlikely to ever be able to spend all of their levy money. We’ll be talking to the new government about how to reform the system to make it work better.
  3. Claims that the day of the graduate is over are seriously exaggerated: We’ve seen steadily increasing engagement in the non-graduate section of the student labour market, particularly since the introduction of the levy. But, amongst ISE members, graduate hires are still dominant and make up 59% of all new student recruits. Non-graduates (e.g. school leavers and apprentices) only make up 17%, with the rest made up of short-term hires, notably interns (17%) and placement students (7%).
  4. A lot of employers are spending their apprenticeship levy on graduates: In April, 33% of employers told us that they were using some of their levy money to support graduate programmes and another 33% said that they were thinking about doing this in the future. By the end of the summer employers reported that 25% of their apprenticeship starts already had a degree. This trend may become politically contentious as we move into 2020 and beyond.
  5. Employers are generally happy with their hires, but would like more STEM skills: The overwhelming majority of employers (91%) said they were always or often able to find the graduates that they needed and 81% said the same thing about non-graduate hires. However, there were serious concerns about the ability of employers to find engineers, IT specialists and other technical and analytical roles.
  6. Employers really care about mental health: We collaborated on research with the Hype Collective which suggested that young people were concerned about employer’s attitudes to mental health. But, employers told us that this issue was high on their priorities. The overwhelming majority (78%) of firms had a mental health policy, 73% said that they give a high priority to the mental health of their staff and 43% said that they are now talking about this as part of their recruitment processes.
  7. Everyone is using online learning, but most don’t love it: Our Development Survey revealed that online learning is one of the most popular approaches for developing new hires. The overwhelming majority (90%) of employers said that they use online learning as part of their development approach. However, only 24% identified online learning as one of the most effective approaches that they use. It seems that we’ll all be sitting in training rooms for a few more years!
  8. Graduates are well dressed: Employers were four times more likely to report concerns with the way that non-graduate entry-level staff dressed than they were with graduates. This points to the importance of the questionable quality which is popularly known as ‘polish’, but sometimes described as ‘cultural capital’. Graduates know how to behave and fit in with organisational cultures and this makes them more appealing to employers. But, a lot of polish doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is more talented and so there is reason to be sceptical about some first impressions.
  9. Apprentices are more loyal than graduates: While graduates may dress better, they are less likely to stay in post than non-graduates. After three years, 26% of graduates have waved goodbye to a firm, but only 17% of apprentices have moved on. After five years 40% of grads have left in comparison with 26% of apprentices.
  10. Graduates are still worse off than they were in 2008: Since the recession pretty much everyone’s pay has fallen in real terms. Graduate starting salaries are no exception. When you account for inflation, new graduates are being offered about £2K less in real terms at the start of their career than they were before the financial crash. Salaries improved a little this year in comparison with last year, but there is still no sign of sustained growth in graduate earning power.

Read more ISE research.

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