Graduate unemployment hits 17-year high

Graduate unemployment has hit its highest level in 17 years, with research revealing that more than 21,000 students who graduated in 2009 were without work in January 2010.

The study, by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), shows that over the last year graduate unemployment rose one percentage point to 8.9%. This is the highest level since the 10.5% recorded in 1993.

While the rate of unemployment growth is slowing – for 2008 graduates, it had increased 2.4 percentage points to 7.9% – concerns remain about the impact of public sector cuts, warned Charlie Ball, deputy research director at HECSU.

“Prospects for graduates in the short-term look brighter, with unemployment, as a result of the downturn, likely to have peaked and next year we expect to see a decline,” he said. “However, with the anticipated public sector job cuts the future in the medium-term looks less clear.”

The public sector was one of the very few areas to continue to recruit through the recession, fuelling worries over the impact the job cuts will have on graduate unemployment.

While recruitment in the private sector suffered, the public sector remained buoyant. Employment for social and healthcare professionals both increased – 0.5 percentage points to 5.2% and 0.2 percentage points to 14.8% respectively.

IT was hit hardest, with unemployment increasing from 13.7% to 16.3%. Similarly, those entering construction and engineering struggled, particularly within architecture and building (rising from 8.5% to 10.9%), mechanical engineering (rising from 10.1% to 11.8%), and civil engineering (rising from 7% to 11.9%). In addition, media studies graduates struggled with unemployment rates increasing 2.6 percentage points to 14.6%.

Recruitment in the retail sector bucked the trend with 14.4% of those in employment working in this sector – a 3.8 percentage points increase from the previous year. Marketing was the only other type of work in the private sector that had increased its graduate intake – a rise of 0.1 percentage points to 4.2%.

While the number securing graduate-level jobs fell 3.3 percentage points to 62.4%, salaries continued to rise, but only marginally. Graduates can expect a mean salary of £19,695, £18 higher than the previous year.

London reported a slightly higher salary of £22,228 and Scotland held up well at £19,965 – higher than any other region outside London. By subject, graduates who studied Chinese reported the highest starting salary of £24,540 and fine art graduates the lowest, at £14,625.

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