Jobs gloom lifts as slow-starting graduates start to find their way

Well-qualified hopefuls used to pick up any employment scraps that fell from the table. Now graduates end up getting their teeth into the work they want, writes Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
To be frank, much of the advice about working life which is directed at graduates is depressing. Gone are the days when there was an easy progression through interesting, well-paid jobs that had real futures; nowadays young hopefuls are expected to scratch around for openings that just might lead to something, and even to create jobs for themselves.

However, in what must be a welcome lifting of the gloom, a study just published by the Institute for Employment Studies and Sussex University's Career Development Unit, says that, while graduates "may have a slow and unsteady start settling into the career pattern they expect, four years on from graduation they are in the kinds of jobs they want".

What Do Graduates Do Next? is a follow-up to last year's report by the same team, What Do Graduates Really Do?, which highlighted the variety and fragmented nature of many graduates' early careers. It especially pointed to the wide range of jobs they were doing, including many not regarded as requiring graduate skills.

The first report looked at a group of more than 500 graduates who completed degrees at Sussex University in 1991, 1992 and 1993. The second, published last week, surveys them two years on, and finds that most are in jobs, with more than before in professional and managerial positions and other jobs where their degree is seen to be relevant. Salaries have improved markedly, with just over a third of the total - 43 per cent of 1991 graduates - earning more than pounds 20,000 a year. There is also less temporary work, and satisfaction with career development is high.

Helen Connor, IES associate fellow and main author of the report, said that this longitudinal study provided fresh insights into how graduates' careers develop over time, especially during the 1990s, which had been what she called "turbulent years". While accepting that the recently improved labour market had been a factor in the latest results being more positive, she said: "This also due to the fact that many graduates take several years to settle into the kind of jobs they regard as first career steps, and as appropriate to their level of education." Moreover, she said, the survey provided evidence that some of the features of 1990s employment and careers, such as instability, career changes and underemployment, applied mainly to first jobs and the early stages of career development.

Bridget Millmore, careers adviser at Sussex University and a co-author of the report, added that looking at graduates several years after they had graduated provided "a more realistic picture of career success and benefits from degree study than the snapshot first destinations survey at six months after graduation". It took into account the large numbers of graduates who opted for further training, took time out, or who simply changed their minds about their choice of career.

Among the other finds of a study that Ms Millmore believes will be "of considerable benefit" to students is the fact that only a few - about 7 per cent - remain self-employed; that media, arts and research and development have the greatest share of graduate employment; and that degree discipline is still one of the most influential factors affecting employment outcomes. Biological science graduates were most likely to still be in full-time study six years after obtaining their first degree, while engineering graduates were the most likely to be in unemployment. Incidentally, engineers - along with mathematical science graduates - were the highest earners in the survey.