According to a recent study by High Fliers Research, the number of graduate vacancies available to students is at a high, but roles are increasingly left unfilled because students are becoming too picky to accept them. In its annual Graduate Market study, High Fliers found that among the UK’s top 100 employers, the number of graduates hired rose by 3.3% last year but 1074 places were left unfilled – the highest number recorded since the survey began recording in 1994. Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers, linked the results to a changing attitude in the student community, “Overall we probably have twice as many graduates as there are jobs, but at the top end graduates are becoming increasingly choosy.”
Given that most students continue to identify with the difficulty of finding work after university, along with increasing levels of pressure and competition for roles, is this summation a fair reflection of the wider student community? The poor correlation between jobs available and positions filled indicates a changing graduate job market in which the gap between the “best” and the “rest” is becoming ever wider, but does not necessarily reflect the reality of the job hunt faced by the average student.
According to the study, the median starting salary for jobs in the top 100 companies is £30,000 and employers are putting in more effort than ever to expand their graduate recruitment base, with visits to university careers fairs as well as mentoring and internship programmes. At first sight, it might appear that students have more choice and opportunity than ever when it comes to job hunting - not exactly. The majority of graduate jobs continue to cater towards certain sectors; accountancy and finance and engineering, which sees the largest growth in graduate recruitment when compared with sectors such as media, which saw a drop in recruitment last year by 36.7%. Vacancies are also geographically centralised, with 82% of the companies offering placements in London, compared to only 45% across Scotland and 26% in Northern Ireland. Whilst the number of graduate vacancies may be rising, it cannot be said that there are equal opportunities for graduates in terms of degree requirements and job locations. For those who are on courses with no relation to the aforementioned sectors or who live in regions with fewer opportunities, “picky” hardly seems a fair label.
So what about the students who are apparently able to turn down £30,000 jobs, holding all the cards whilst employers are left with empty desks? And why are students who turn down or renege offers labelled as choosy and resented rather than praised for making considered decisions about their futures? The mantra of “take what you can get” may improve statistics, but the expectation that students have fewer rights than anyone else in being able to cancel contracts or turn down offers is hypocritical, patronising and not conducive to job satisfaction for graduates.
Students should not be deprived of choice, and the supposed reality check which the tabloid media believes our generation needs is unfair and damaging to our sense of what we should and can expect from the world of work. It’s not all disenchantment and monotony after university; if you are lucky enough to have a choice of jobs, or a choice between taking a job and taking time out, relish it. The number of vacancies left empty does not reflect a lack of attraction to graduate jobs on the part of students but is rather an encouraging sign that graduates still hold some degree of leverage in the recruitment process.