'The British status system will still 'zap' us. There are still going to be elites,' a university careers adviser says in the report.
'There is a serious risk that the years of recession may produce a lost generation of graduates: capable people whose choice of career was squeezed out. By the time the recession ends there could be thousands of graduates in this predicament,' Carol Goodman, the report's author, said.
Those who are unable to get jobs for which they are qualified are making their vacation jobs permanent, working in fast-food outlets or as word processing and clerical temps.
The association is urging employers to wake up to the big changes in the student population, where women now make up nearly half of enrolments and the numbers of ethnic minority and mature students have greatly increased. White men, aged 18 to 22, will soon be in a minority.
It also wants firms to look beyond the old, prestigious universities when it comes to recruitment. 'With a more complex job market there is a danger that it will stratify - to the disadvantage of those students who actually form a majority of enrolments.'
Ms Goodman, a former finance director of Amnesty International, said that universities were concerned non-traditional graduates were suffering in the jobs market. 'All the academic institutions noticed a pattern. Everyone is concerned that the diversity in higher education enrolment is not yet being fully reflected in the range of opportunities that people are offered.'
Her report points out that firms have ill-defined but tenacious notions of prestige in a 'social hierarchy' of universities. She quotes a careers adviser as saying the British status system will 'zap' non-traditional students and less prestigious institutions.
The adviser adds: 'There are still going to be elites. Even with 15 per cent of graduates in the workforce . . . it will be which institution. It may even be which subject . . . Just as we've been stuck with an elite for the last umpteen years with Oxbridge there's going to be another dozen or so, maybe, that will join in, and then there'll be the also-rans.'
Kate Tyzack, recruitment manager of Marks & Spencer, advised graduates who take temporary jobs to make use of the experience. 'If they are working in McDonald's it does not mean that they cannot become the team leader and from there they can move on to something that meets their aspirations.'
Ann Bailey, chairman of the association, said graduates limited their options and urged them to look at small firms for increasing opportunities. 'The idea of a career ladder is becoming an anachronism,' the report said. Companies were changing so profoundly that assumptions about what jobs they offer and what skills they need might no longer fit.
Roles for Graduates in the 21st Century: Getting the Balance Right; Association of Graduate Recruiters, Sheraton House, Castle Park, Cambridge CB2 0PG; pounds 15.Reuse content