`Golden hellos' add sparkle to jobs for graduates

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Job prospects for students who graduate this summer are at their best for a decade, with employers increasingly offering "golden hellos" to attract the most promising recruits.

Lump sums paid to graduates average pounds 1,000, but can vary between pounds 300 and pounds 2,500, according to the research group Incomes Data Services.

The "upfront" money is aimed at high-flyers or those with specialisms in high demand and is particularly welcome for those with large student loans to repay.

Having employed an extra 18 per cent of graduates in 1997, companies are planing to raise their intake by a further 17 per cent this summer.

Managers claim, however, that they are finding it increasingly difficult to secure the services of quality recruits. Researchers at IDS believe that students are still achieving the same standards, but that employers want "more of the best".

The biggest jump in graduate intake this year is being planned in the finance sector, where employers predict they will be taking on 30 per cent more degree holders this year than last. In 1997 they employed nearly 40 per cent more than in the previous year when recruitment had declined by 16.7 per cent. At the Halifax the demand for degree holders increased by 775 per cent. In 1996 it took on 12 university leavers, but last year it employed 105.

In a survey of 100 organisations, the research group found that median starting salaries are expected to be pounds 16,000 this year compared with pounds 15,500 in 1997. The range of starting pay last year however was between pounds 11,160 and pounds 25,000, compared with average earnings throughout the economy of pounds 19,200 for adults working full time.

It is possible that while the number of jobs on offer will go up, they will not all be taken. Last year a third of companies complained that they were unable to fill all the vacancies, particularly in information technology and engineering.

Apart from golden hellos, managements are also offering interest-free loans and upfront salary payments. To build ties with the people they want, firms also offer sandwich-year work placements and sponsorship schemes. Companies find that it is not easy to retain the services of graduates. They held on to 77 per cent of their 1994 intake and less than 60 per cent of those they recruited in 1992.

Advertising in the national press is still the most popular method of attracting graduate applicants, according to IDS, but more than a tenth of companies are also using the Internet to reach college leavers.

- Barrie Clement

Labour Editor