Graduate unemployment rate lowest in 39 years

Oct 23, 2018 | Sector & policy

The early graduate unemployment rate fell to 5.1% this year, graduates salaries increased 2.9% to £22,399 and thousands more found professional roles. Prospects’ What do graduates do? 2018 reports it’s certainly a buyers’ market for graduates – if you have the right mix of knowledge, skills and abilities.

This counters the idea that the UK is producing too many graduates and is reflected in the ISE Annual Student Recruitment Survey. This year we found a 7% increase in recruitment amongst graduate employers (PDF), they received fewer applications per job and the number of declined or reneged offers had risen since last year.

However, our survey also revealed apprenticeships and school leaver programmes had grown 50% (PDF), suggesting that graduates shouldn’t get too complacent as employers are also considering other approaches to hiring. Apprenticeships are not going to replace graduate recruitment in the short term, but the longer-term future remains uncertain. Students who work on their career development and succeed academically are best placed to prosper in the current jobs market.

What do graduates do? highlights from Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects

Our annual ‘What do graduates do?’ publication analyses data from the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The latest issue examines graduate outcomes six months after they left university in the summer of 2017.

A total of 329,325 first degrees were awarded to UK domiciled graduates in 2017, an increase of 4% and back to 2013 levels, but still well below the 2014 peak in graduate numbers. 

The employment rate rose from 74.2% to 76.6%. Unemployment meanwhile fell further and has not been lower for 39 years. The share of the market taken by professional level jobs stood at 73.9% of employed graduates – up from 71.4% last year. 

Occupations seeing large rises in graduate entry included software developers, marketers, management consultants, midwives, artists, photographers, niche or specialist engineers, business project managers, sports coaches, paramedics and housing officers.

However, the number of graduate entrants to roles in graphic design, PR, journalism, youth work and probation all fell. Surveying also saw another fall, despite widespread reports from employers of difficulty filling these positions.

A more urban graduate labour market 

The proportion of graduates starting their career in London increased again to 22.4% – 41,290 graduates got jobs in the capital, with 6,080 being appointed in Westminster alone, 4,065 in the City of London and 3,490 in the Borough of Camden. 

Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle all saw a rise in the number of graduates starting their careers there while there were fewer graduates working in Kent, Northants, Staffordshire and Cornwall. This can mean difficulties for employers looking to recruit outside the larger cities.

Positive outlook

Long-term trends strongly suggest that even if there are shocks in store for the UK economy, graduates are well placed to weather them. The graduate labour market is not likely to suffer lasting damage. 

Some trends, particularly the apprenticeship agenda, may have more of an impact on the graduate economy, but this is unlikely to impact young people in any way other than to give them more options to enter good quality employment. 

In the medium term, the UK expects falling numbers of 18-year-olds year-on-year, well into the next decade. Coupled with increasing demand for shortage occupations at graduate level, it is likely to keep graduate prospects buoyant.

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