Employers give little comfort to graduates

THE JOBS squeeze is hitting university graduates hard this year, with 17 per cent fewer posts being offered by employers, according to a survey published yesterday. The figure implies an even higher level of graduate unemployment because the numbers of students graduating has risen steeply over the past four or five years.

The survey was carried out among more than 300 employers for the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which is holding its annual conference at Exeter University this week. It shows that the guarded optimism expressed by employers has evaporated: last November they forecast a 4 per cent increase in graduate jobs.

The Institute of Manpower Studies, which carried out the survey, said that 55 per cent of the employers surveyed had reduced their vacancy forecasts between November and May.

Average starting salaries are marginally down in real terms, to pounds 13,000 in industry, and pounds 12,500 for non-industrial posts.

The jobs squeeze has been most dramatic in the non-industrial sector, with forecast vacancies down 17 per cent compared with 4 per cent for industrial employers. Although most recruiters expect to fill their vacancies this year, some employers are still having problems recruiting for engineering and technology jobs. The area of work where employers encounter greatest difficulties in finding the right recruits is research and development. There is also a high level of competition for what employers define as 'the best' graduates, primarily because a growing proportion of the recruitment programme is aimed at hiring graduates with long- term senior management potential.

Companies gave a variety of reasons for the changes to their forecast recruitment needs. Of those taking fewer numbers, the main reason given was the recession. But the report says that other causes include a lower turnover of existing staff, coupled with a reluctance to resort to redundancy. That meant that fewer new posts were being offered.

Several employers expressed concern that their inability to offer jobs to new graduates might lead to a less lively and stimulating organisation in the future.

The continuing competition for high calibre graduates was also raised yesterday by Ann Bailey, the association's chairman and the higher education manager of Digital Equipment Co Ltd, in her own opening address at the conference. She said: 'In today's very competitive world, undergraduates need to have the best education possible. That does not only mean the best academic qualifications, it means the development of the personal skills that employers are also seeking. The competition for quality graduates with both technical and personal transferable skills does not diminish.'

She warned of future problems arising from increased access to higher education and said that universities and the Government must appreciate the position of employers. 'We cannot possibly provide the vastly increased number of traditional graduate jobs that would be needed. If the student was helped to recognise that the qualifications they obtain can be used in many areas . . . then I believe they will be able to accept the higher education route as a matter of ensuring that we have a better skilled UK workforce.'

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