Leading graduate employers pull out of university 'milk round'

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The Independent Online

Several leading graduate employers have pulled out of this year's university "milk round", as the credit crunch has forced them to pare back recruitment plans for 2009.

Britain's largest investment banks, management consultants, lawyers and accountants organise employment fairs at leading universities every year, to try to tempt the brightest students into their graduate programmes. This tour – known as the "milk round" – helps thousands of students secure jobs before they leave university.

However, after the worst year in the investment banks' history, and with the prospect of a severe economic downturn, several companies have pulled out of this year's round, as they may have few or no new jobs to offer in 2009. Insiders have admitted that graduate recruitment plans have been under review, while for some it would fall under the general hiring freeze in the market. As a result, even graduates at the best universities may struggle to find work over the next few years.

David Ainscough, deputy director of Cambridge University's careers service, said that a number of banks had "scaled down or pulled out of campus events" at Cambridge, forcing the university to call on presenters from its waiting list. Three of those to pull out were major investment banks.

Some have been forced out of the rounds after a year of exceptional change in the financial services industry. The collapse of Lehman Brothers knocked one graduate recruiter out of the market, and Merrill Lynch has combined its efforts with Bank of America after the companies agreed to merge last month. Dresdner Kleinwort has also pulled out of the milk round this year, because of the uncertainty after Commerzbank's acquisition of its parent, Dresdner Bank.

In the Republic of Ireland, Allied Irish Bank is not running a graduate recruitment scheme this year, while Bank of Ireland has asked half of its intake to defer to 2009 and its recruitment policy is under review.

Yet many of the big investment banks were adamant they would maintain their on-campus presence, despite the impending recession. After suspending graduate recruitment in previous recessions, the banks were left with a shortage of skilled staff when business improved. They are therefore keen to sustain their intake.

John Benson, chief executive of the recruitment website eFinancial-Careers.com, said: "There is a different approach this time round to 2001, when the banks stopped graduate recruitment programmes altogether. That turned out to be a costly mistake; when the market turned they didn't have enough staff in place at a junior level. They recognise the need now."