In cheerier times, high-flying graduates would have passed Aldi by on their way to glamorous jobs in the City. But as the banks have slashed their intakes, the budget food chain has found itself flooded with applications.

Keen to take advantage of the surfeit of talent, Aldi has increased the numbers on its management training scheme – which pays a starting salary of £40,000 – from 100 to 150; and it is not the only employer to take advantage of the shift in the jobs market.

Five leading charities have launched a management training programme aimed at this year's finalists, and the nuclear fuel industry is offering a new, well-paid graduate development programme with the chance to travel.

These are welcome developments for the near 300,000 students about to graduate, around half of whom will want to go into paid employment. They will be doing it with even more urgency than usual: the class of 2009 is the first to have paid top-up fees and, according to High Fliers Research, they will be coming out with an average debt of £20,000.

Finding that first job has never been easy, and students are understandably nervous. Careers officers report an unusually high number of last year's graduates still seeking an opening, even from the most prestigious universities, such as Cambridge and the London School of Economics. But some people think the threat to graduate employment has been exaggerated.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters complains that the media concentrated on the 5.4 per cent projected fall in recruitment contained in its annual survey last February, and ignored the more positive findings, such as the forecast that food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are expected to take on 12.5 per cent more graduates in 2009, and that manufacturing will be seeking to recruit an extra 8.3 per cent.

To help redress the balance, the association is organising a series of events to help careers officers find fresh sources of employment for their graduates. Carl Gilleard, its chief executive, says the over-gloomy picture led many careers advisers and graduates to assume there were no opportunities left.

"These events are designed to set the record straight, giving careers advisers an accurate and honest insight into the state of graduate recruitment in the engineering, retail and finance sectors and exactly how it has been affected by the economic downturn," he says. "We hope they will relay these insights to the young people graduating this year so they can get a more balanced picture of what is happening in the graduate jobs market."

Among the employers taking part in the retail event are Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The financial services will be represented by Fidelity International, the Financial Services Authority, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, FactSet, Aviva, Grant Thornton and Swiss Re.

On 4 June, Lloyd's Register UK Marine is hosting an event with other companies that employ engineers, and wants to recruit trainee surveyors to help its quality assurance and inspection work with ships and oil rigs.

"We want to promote the fact that there is still recruitment activity going on in our industry," says John O'Connor, its head of talent management. "We have 15 different recruiters for engineers and 35 universities participating, and we hope they will get the idea that we are still looking for graduates and it is not all doom and gloom," he said.

Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine manufacturer, is recruiting an extra 70 graduates this year and BAE Systems is hiring 300 for a range of jobs including engineering, finance, IT, research and development and sales and purchasing.

The major engineering companies are having a field day, says Gordon Chesterman, the director of The University of Cambridge Careers Service: "They are getting applications from very bright engineers who in other times might be looking at investment banking rather than using their degrees. One of our jobs now is to adjust people's expectations. If someone says they have always wanted to join a hedge fund or work for a national newspaper, we are reminding them that it might not be so easy this year and advising them to look at alternative routes," he says.

It is important to remember only a small sector of the City has been hit by the downturn, says Jenny Fox, head of careers and higher education at the Financial Services Skills Council. Most large graduate employers have not made the mistake of the last recession when they stopped recruiting. This time, they are continuing to seek fresh talent.

"Some employers are looking at their graduate recruitment schemes and making cuts, but are keeping them open," says Fox. "Then there are other areas which are counter-cyclical, such as insurance and reinsurance, which are doing fine. There are areas of accountancy, such as auditing and insolvency, which are looking to strengthen their staff, and there are indications of growth in other areas, such as compliance and corporate governance."

Students should be focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises, and looking at what the public services have to offer, according to the careers service at the University of Hertfordshire which runs a recruitment service for employers alongside careers advice for students.

With 4,500 graduates every year, Anusha Everson, the university's director of graduate employment, has been hitting the phones with her team to find new openings. "We are looking at the hidden jobs market that people don't usually think of, such as the public sector and the utilities and areas of retail that have remained buoyant. Even in the financial sector, anything that is about risk management or managing debt will still have jobs for good graduates," she says.

Fiona Sandford, director of careers at LSE, says "helicopter" parents, who seek to shoehorn their children into dream jobs with blue-chip companies, need to set them free to find work or internships that will enhance their CVs.