Too many unemployed graduates are guilty of “job snobbery” by turning down work they consider menial, according to a recruitment expert.

Official figures revealed yesterday that youth unemployment is climbing back towards one million, with joblessness amongst 16-24-year-olds rising by 15,000 to reach 973,000 in the last quarter.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures means more than one in five is not in work or education. Long-term joblessness also rose, with the number of people out of work for more than two years up by 10,000 to 474,000, the highest since 1997.

Norman Rose, from industry body the Recruitment Society, says graduates can’t afford to stay unemployed while they look for the perfect job to suit their skills.

“There is an element of snobbery which says, ‘I’ve got these qualifications, I’m too good’,” he told BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat. “People think because they have a degree or a qualification they should not go for anything other than their line of expertise.”

But Stephen Timms, shadow Employment Minister, responded to the criticism by saying: “It’s not fair to accuse young people of job snobbery when youth unemployment is edging back towards a million. Many are desperate for a job, but government programmes are letting them down.”

Dom Anderson, of the National Union of Students, said: “Graduates have invested heavily in their studies, both financially and in terms of significant time and effort.

“The desire to prioritise employment in industries connected to the qualifications they have worked hard to gain is entirely reasonable, and it is a sad indictment of the labour market that some graduates are finding a lack of relevant opportunities available to them.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We are committed to ensuring young people are given the best chance to get on in life, which is why we set up the Youth Contract: a scheme that will offer 500,000 opportunities to young people over three years.”

Unemployment fell in Britain overall, however, the ONS figures revealed, as the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance last month decreased by 29,200 to 1.4 million, the lowest level for more than four years.