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Graduates face robust yet competitive jobs market – Institute of Student Employers annual survey

students sat on steps with books and laptops
  • Graduate vacancies rose 6%
  • 86 applications per role (up 23%) 
  • For first time less than 1 in 10 employers require minimum UCAS A-level grades

The graduate labour market is performing well despite economic woes, but competition for jobs has surged, reports the Institute of Student Employers’ (ISE) annual Student Recruitment Survey.

Despite a cooling jobs market and economic uncertainty, graduate vacancies grew 6% in 2022/23, which is higher than predicted (2%). The current recruitment season also looks healthy as employers expect to increase hires by 5% (2023/2024). Graduates who have IT, engineering or finance skills are particularly sought after.

The survey found increasing competition for graduate jobs with the average organisation receiving 86 applications per vacancy (up 23% on last year).

Jobs in retail, FMCG and tourism as well as financial and professional services are the most competitive while roles in charities, the public sector and built environment are currently the least competitive.

Employers continue to be less reliant on grade as a means of assessing a graduate’s suitability for a role. For the first time, less than 1 in 10 employers (9%) set minimum UCAS A-level grade requirements and those requiring a 2:1 hit a new low at 44%. A decade ago, the proportion was 40% and 76% for A-levels and 2:1s respectively.

Despite the shift to remote working, the majority of graduates are hired to work in London and the South East (56%). Just 3% of graduates were not based in a particular region, so are fully remote.

ISE’s annual survey indicated cautious optimism among graduate employers. While vacancies remain up, employers spent £439 less on recruiting each graduate and salaries are either just in-line with inflation or falling in real terms. The median salary is £32,000, which is a 3% rise on last year, but worth £1,760 less than it was 10 years ago. 

Stephen Isherwood, ISE chief executive, commented:

“Cost per hire has fallen so employers are cautious with budgets, but they’re not cutting back early talent hiring. The UK needs more skilled workers and employers from all sectors need a strong pipeline of trainee talent to meet their future business needs.

“Students will no doubt be relieved to hear that there are plenty of jobs around, however there is a lot of competition. The big jump in applications could signal that the rising cost of living and high inflation are creating anxiety among students about finding a job and so they are applying for multiple roles. It’s important that students apply early and tailor their applications to reflect the organisation and role.

“While businesses continue to invest in graduates as the workforce of the future, they continue to reduce reliance on minimum academic cut-offs for applicants. This is a positive trend for social mobility. By reducing focus on grades, fewer young people are being filtered out of the opportunity to access a good job on the basis of their performance at school.”

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