Graduate employment confidence hits 15-year low

Final-year undergraduates for 2010 are gloomy about their immediate employment prospects with confidence in the graduate job recruitment market at a 15-year low, new research shows.

Of the 16,000-plus students surveyed by High Fliers Research in March, only a third expected to find a graduate job after university, and 14% said they hadn’t decided what they will do next – the highest proportion since the graduate careers survey began in 1995.

One-third feared many entry-level vacancies will be filled by 2009 graduates, and one in six claimed they would have decided against university if they had realised how tough the graduate job market is.

The survey also found that confidence in the graduate job market was at an all-time low, with 45% of university leavers describing prospects for new graduates as ‘very limited’. Fewer than one in six finalists who applied for graduate positions said they were ‘very confident’ of landing a definite job offer before graduation – even less than in 2009. And a third said they will have to accept any job they were offered.

Graduate salary expectations have also fallen. Final-year job hunters expect to earn an average of £22,000 for their first job – 3.1% less than in 2008.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “Our latest survey shows that final-year students due to leave UK universities this summer are just as pessimistic about their employment prospects as those who graduated 12 months ago.

“The research highlights that students from arts and humanities and those who’ve had little or no work experience during their time at university are the least confident about the future, and expect to earn almost £50,000 less than graduates with business, finance or law degrees during their first five years of employment.”

Michael Rendell, head of HR services at PricewaterhouseCoopers – the UK’s top graduate recruiter, taking on more than 1,000 every year – said it was not surprising that students are pessimistic about their future prospects given two years of recession.

“With businesses starting to make preparations for an upturn, it is important employers continue to engage with graduates or they risk deterring key potential talent,” he told Personnel Today.

Donna Miller, HR director at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, which is planning to recruit 750 graduates this year, urged students to broaden their career targets.

“An IT student shouldn’t be holding out for a job with a top IT firm, given that most companies in the country will have an IT department,” she told Personnel Today. “They may get an overall better experience too with an opportunity to work on some really interesting projects [at a non-IT firm].”

She added that more and more employers are moving to “rolling” or “year-round” recruitment, meaning that candidates will not need to sit out the process for a year.

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