Lime Street: first stop for bright sparks

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Next week, many of the North-west's massive student population will converge on Liverpool to attend the city's Graduate Recruitment Fair. The 60 exhibitors will include local, national and international firms hoping to bag the best of next year's graduating students. Maureen O'Connor reports.

It says something about the new confidence abroad in Liverpool that the Graduate Careers Fair being held there on 7 October is being held at St. George' s Hall. The venue is the great Neo-Classical monument to the city' s history which greets visitors as soon as they emerge from Lime Street Station. It is the most prestigious and convenient location the city' s three universities could have chosen to attract their own 30,000 students, - 10,000 of whom graduate this year - and, they hope, many others from around the North West.

The Careers Fair is a joint venture between the University of Liverpool, the Liverpool John Moores University and the Liverpool Hope University, under the auspices of Graduates for Merseyside. It is part of the Graduates for Merseyside Initiative and has been sponsored by The Independent and the City Council.

There will be more than 60 exhibitors, as well as a series of careers and employer talks held throughout the day. Dr Anne Merry, director for Careers and Academic Practice at the University of Liverpool, hopes that students and prospective graduates will make the most of the largest general careers fair in the North West.

Liverpool has one of the fastest growing student populations in the country and is particularly anxious to retain the services of some of its graduating students in the area. The fair will offer a meeting place early in the academic year, for final year students starting their job hunt early and recent graduates who may be still looking for employment.

The fair has attracted a wide range of prospective employers, from major national and international firms like KPMG, GEC Marconi, Rolls Royce, McDonald's Restaurants Ltd, and Lloyds TSB, to local firms such as Littlewoods, the Merseyside Innovation Centre and the Merseyside Teaching Company.

And if employers seem keen to meet Merseyside' s students, students seem equally keen to meet their prospective employers. "It is a good chance to find out what employers want, and what they expect from you," was a typical comment from one group of students, settling in for the new term and intending to be at St. George's Hall on October 7. Others welcomed the prospect of information and guidance on offer from the careers advisers who will also be on hand, and regarded a recruitment fair of this kind as a very useful starting point in the hunt for the first job.

The enormous range of employers involved gives some indication of the gradual trend away from public service and manufacturing and industrial jobs towards the service sector. Between May 1996 and May 1997, the CSU recruitment publication Prospects Today, saw increases in service sector job advertising from 15.7 per cent to 19.7 per cent, in consultancies and agencies from 16.7 per cent to 22.6 per cent. Vacancies in the manufacturing and industrial services and the public sector all fell.

The Liverpool fair is particularly useful to employers at a time when their recruitment difficulties have been increasing. The Higher Education Careers Services Unit, CSU, reported at the end of September in Graduate Market Trends that there had been more than a 30 per cent surge in advertised graduate vacancies this year, with a particular surge in some specialist jobs for degree holders. Almost half of recent advertisements were for vacancies in information technology and management information, engineering and technology services, and finance.

A study carried out for the Association of Graduate Recruiters earlier this year also identified these posts as being the hardest to fill. "Many employers are finding that they are unable to fill posts for new graduates during the normal recruitment round, so need to advertise late in the season." This may explain why employers are so keen to sign on for a recruitment fair almost as soon as term begins this academic year.

Generally, CSU reports, the job situation for graduates is improving, with high salaries, up to pounds 10,000 more than the pounds 15,000 median for a first job, being offered in particular shortage areas. Advertising is rising in general and specialist publications.

Overall the news for job-seekers is more cheering than it has been for some time. According to CSU, nearly two fifths of vacancies were advertised without specifying a preferred degree subject discipline. Of those which did ask for a particular discipline, three quarters required science, engineering and technology subjects.

Financial prospects for graduates in their first job are more mixed. The median starting salary in 1997 was pounds 14,500, up 6.6 per cent on the previous year, but the range of salaries mentioned in advertisements - specified by only two fifths of employers - was an astonishing pounds 5,000 to pounds 26,000 a year.

For those worried about their soon to be extended periods of loan repayment, the news was mixed. Three-quarters of starting salaries fell below the qualifying pounds 15,792 for the existing Student Loan Company scheme in 1996/7. But just three per cent were under pounds 10,000 which looks likely to be the threshold for repayments under the revised scheme due to start in 1998.