The number of jobs awaiting graduates slumped in 2012 after two years in which students' employment prospects appeared to have recovered from the effects of the recession.
Figures published today show the number of jobs on offer last year was 1,399 fewer than employers had predicted at the beginning of the year. The biggest fall was in the accountancy and banking sectors, with the 15 banks in the survey hiring almost 800 fewer staff than they had anticipated.
"As the recruiting season progressed, employers' recruitment targets in several different sectors changed significantly and the total number of vacancies on offer dropped," said the study on the graduate jobs market, published by recruitment specialist High Fliers Research.
The report blamed "the continuing uncertainty in the wider economy" for the slump. It went on to predict that vacancies will rise in 2013 by 2.7 per cent, but warns that unless students graduating next summer have already had a spell of work experience at the firm they apply to, they may still find it difficult to gain employment. More than a third of the vacancies are expected to be filled by someone who has already had work experience with the firm in question, it said. Including training contracts for law firms, this figure is likely to rise to 50 per cent.
"This latest research confirms that taking part in work placements or internships is now just as important as getting a 2:1 or a first-class degree," said Martin Burchall, High Fliers Research's managing director.
"Graduate recruiters warn that in a highly competitive job market, new graduates who have not had any work experience are increasingly unlikely to be offered a good graduate job."
More than four-fifths of employers said they were providing placements of between six and 12 months. Half also said they had paid vacation internships lasting three weeks.
The report, based on a survey of the 100 biggest recruiters of graduates in the UK, revealed that the average starting salary for a graduate was likely to be pegged at £29,000 for the fourth year running. The freeze on pay levels is described as "unprecedented". Investment banks, though, are offering starting salaries of £45,000.
The largest recruiter this year is likely to be Teach First, which allows graduates to spend two years teaching in inner city schools and trains them on the job. It expects to have 1,260 vacancies, while Deloitte and PriceWaterhouseCoopers expect to have 1,200 each.
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