Graduates `are forced to take low-paid jobs'

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Graduates are being forced to take low-level clerical jobs or even to work as unskilled machine operators, according to a new report published today.

Almost half the graduates employed by banks and building societies were taking low-paid work rather than going into jobs with prospects, researchers from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found.

In one large organisation, one in seven of the agency staff taken on as machine operators and clerical workers at a rate of pounds 4.50 per hour were graduates, and 40 per cent of them had been doing this work for six months or more.

The institute, which questioned banks, building societies and steel manufacturers, found that distinct tiers of graduate employment were emerging. Some still found work in middle management or in professional jobs but others took whatever work they could get.

As many as 45 per cent of graduates taking jobs in the financial services sector were put into positions for which a degree was not required, it found.

One employer is quoted in the report as saying that such jobs are "very suitable for a 2.2 from a new university who's only ever worked part-time in Sainsbury's". Another said some of today's graduates seemed less ambitious than those who used to be recruited: "They adapt quickly and pick up skills but they don't seem to have any urgency to move on," he said.

The institute talked to eight companies employing up to 5,500 people in the steel industry plus six banks and six building societies employing up to 118,000 staff.

With almost one in three young people going to university compared with one in eight in the early 1980s, it found many could no longer find a "graduate" job. While mainstream graduate recruits to managerial and professional jobs could expect to earn up to pounds 19,000 a year in banks and building societies, those taking non-graduate jobs earned only pounds 8,000.

The report's author, Geoff Mason, said graduates' skills tended to be better used in manufacturing but that most jobs were in service industries. "The result in financial services is an increasing polarisation, with several different layers of graduate recruitment," he said.

Margaret Wallis, president of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, said there was some danger that graduates could be exploited in low-paid jobs.

"We hope that the majority of these people will move into more traditional graduate employment. Anyway, being better educated is an overall advantage to society as a whole as well as to the individual," she said.