I would treat the Association of Graduate Recruiters’ most recent graduate recruitment survey, and the negative headlines it has attracted in the press, with a big pinch of salt. The AGR’s own website ran the story of its landmark survey under the title ‘The party’s over’. However, I would argue that the survey definitely isn’t all bad news for graduates.
Yes, the number of vacancies for graduates has gone down for the first time since 2003, by some 5.4%. However, that should come as no surprise. No graduate or industry commentator in their right mind would have been expecting the number of overall vacancies to rise this year, given what has happened over the past six months. What is extremely important is where those lost vacancies have come from. They aren’t in retail, and they aren’t in the public sector. According to the survey, the damage to the graduate jobs market from the recession has thus far been largely confined to banking – where jobs are down 28%.
I would hazard a guess that if you took financial services out of the equation, opportunities for graduates have actually increased over the past 12 months. Certainly, the fast moving consumer goods markets expects to take on 12.9% more graduates this year. With more and more students graduating in arts and creative subjects, I believe that in part this significant shift in the market represents the market moving to accommodate the skill sets of graduates who haven’t had a numerical or substantially analytical education. For those graduates who had hoped to find employment in financial services, they should console themselves with the thought of an exciting role in industry (say retail, or perhaps oil and gas) for two years followed by a move across to banking when the market picks up. In our experience, candidates with transferable skills and a diverse and interesting career are eminently more employable anyway.
The AGR also points out that despite warnings that this is the deepest recession in 70 years, the job market is in much better shape than during the dotcom crash in 2003. And from our perspective, we have seen exactly that. Whereas in 2003, many of the vacancies that dried up were with smaller and niche companies, today we are working with a far greater number of small to medium sized enterprises hoping to use the current economic climate to leverage their flexibility and ambition.
The survey’s respondents are absolutely right to advise students not to turn to more education as a solution to not being able to find the perfect first job. Instead, they should approach that initial step into their careers with a five year plan in mind. If that five year plan is to end up working in the banking sector, by all means use opportunities in other sectors or at less well known employers to build towards that goal. Once we’re out of this economic trough, they will be all the better potential employees for it.