This article is more than 5 years old

What do graduates do?

Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence at Prospects, introduces the 2018 edition of the organisation's annual report on the destinations of university graduates.
This article is more than 5 years old

Charlie Ball is Head of Higher Education Intelligence for Prospects at Jisc.

Today sees the release of the 2018 edition of the publication What do graduates do?

For the last 20 years WDGD? has been produced by Prospects in collaboration with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services for the Higher Education Careers Services Unit. It has long been a sector institution and for many years was one of the major public faces of first destination surveys including HESA’s Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE). It still plays an important role in turning sector data into practical intelligence.

Robust graduate labour market

The core of WDGD? is DLHE, and the publication explains the labour market for 2016-17 leavers to prospective students and graduates. Those who follow media narratives about the graduate labour market may be surprised to hear that the graduate labour market is currently rather robust.

The majority of graduates were working after six months (74%) with unemployment standing at 5.1%, the lowest rate since the late 1970s. Of those in work after six months, 74% were in “professional level” employment, another relative high.

The popularity of new postgraduate loans system means we have seen an increase in the proportion of graduates taking masters degrees. This has the effect of pushing some labour market issues out of the first degree sphere where they are visible into the postgraduate area where they are currently not. Although maybe not forever. But there are real questions about the ability of the UK postgraduate labour market to absorb the sharp rise in new entrants it has experienced in the last two years.

Image: Prospects

But the first degree graduate labour market is robust despite the inundation of stories of underemployed graduates which the value of higher education?

The UK graduate labour market came out of the doldrums around 2013 and since then much UK job creation has been at graduate level. Indeed, crucial economic actors such as the Bank of England and British Chambers of Commerce have been warning for some time of labour shortages in a range of skilled professions, such as IT, construction and business services. A BCC survey at the end of 2017 found that 71% of members who had tried to recruit new staff found it difficult and that professional and managerial roles were the hardest positions to fill.

Urban concentration

At the same time, the graduate labour market is concentrated in urban areas. A third of all UK graduates from 2016-17 started their careers in London, Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds. This means that while there are many options for graduates, they are limited by subject choice and by geography. At the same time, UK graduates are not very geographically mobile and it could well be getting worse.

If we can address some of those issues more effectively, both graduates looking for work in their local communities and businesses struggling to recruit staff, will be the winners.

Ultimately we are currently experiencing a relatively buoyant labour market for graduates. There is no telling how long this will last, but we should be robust in promoting what is going well (skilled urban labour markets) and what needs action. “What do graduates do?” is a vital tool in the armoury of the careers professional but it can also have lessons for for us all as the sector and government policy priorities converge on the question of graduate employment.

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