Graduate jobs in the UK market place

I like to take a look at graduate statistics each year as it gives a good indication of the state of the job market overall (as it is a field that I’m used to working in).

My default for this piece of research is the Office for National Statistics but this time I am using High Fliers Research. I’m writing this a little early and using the 2016 report - and when you read the section at the end you will understand why!

The key points of the research were:


  • The country’s top employers planned to expand their graduate recruitment by a further 7.5% in 2016, the fourth consecutive year that graduate vacancies have increased taking recruitment beyond the pre-recession peak in the graduate job market in 2007, to its highest-ever level.
  • More than a quarter of the country’s leading employers increased their graduate recruitment budget for the 2015-2016 recruitment round with the biggest growth areas in the public sector, banking & finance, engineering & industrial companies and the Armed Forces.


  • Prior work experience was an important part of the recruitment process for graduates with 32% of the entry-level positions for 2016 expected to be filled by graduates who had worked for their company through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.
  • More than 90% of the UK’s leading graduate employers offered paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates - equivalent to 14,058 places. This included 75% of employers providing paid vacation internships for penultimate year students; over 50% offering industrial placements for undergraduates (typically 6-12 months) as part their degree course;  over 25% offer paid internships and 40% run introductory courses, open days and other taster experiences for first year undergraduates.


  • Graduate starting salaries at the UK’s leading graduate employers were expected to remain unchanged in 2016, with a median starting salary of £30,000 and at least 20% of top graduate programmes provide starting salaries of more than £35,000 and eight of the country’s best-known graduate employers offered salaries in excess of £45,000.
  • There is very little evidence that graduate starting salaries are rising in reaction to the introduction of higher university tuition fees – most employers that have opted to increase their graduate pay in either 2015 or 2016 appear to have done so in order to compete effectively with other employers recruiting graduates.


  • Over 50% of the UK’s leading employers received more completed graduate job applications during the early part of the recruitment season than the previous year and the country’s top employers received 13% more graduate job applications during the same period.
  • 40% believed the quality of applications had improved.


  • Almost half the recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings from previous years – that graduates with no previous work experience at all have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.
  • A noticeable rise in the number of graduates turning down or reneging on job offers that they had previously accepted meant that over 1,000 graduate positions were left unfilled last year, reducing the graduate intake at almost a third of the UK’s leading employers.

Why and I writing about this now, and not waiting for the latest data to appear? Last week I went to a seminar on apprenticeships which talked about the imminent launch (in the UK) of the apprenticeship levy; the push to grow higher and degree level apprenticeships in many industries and the impact it will have on mainstream graduates in the years ahead.

What are Degree Apprenticeships?

Degree Apprenticeships are a new government programme. Apprentices will split their time between university study and the workplace and will be employed throughout – gaining a full bachelors or masters degree from a top university, while earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession.

The cost of course fees will be shared between government and employers, meaning that the apprentice can earn a full bachelors or even masters degree without paying any fees. Plus, the apprentice will gain that highly valued work experience along the way.

Agree apprenticeships are suitable for school leavers as an alternative route to gaining a degree, the new qualifications are expected to strengthen the vocational pathway and be suitable for existing apprentices looking to progress in their career. However, they are also available to a member of staff to help them develop new skills and there is no upper age limit for the person as the scheme recognises that many people will have to adapt their skills during the course of their working lives.

The first degree apprenticeships were available in four key industries: digital; automotive engineering; banking relationship manager and construction. Additional apprenticeships are also being developed in chartered surveying; electronic systems engineering; aerospace engineering; aerospace software development; defence systems engineering; laboratory science; nuclear; power systems; and public relations.

What does this mean for traditional graduates?

One comment that did concern me at the seminar was a quote (from a large graduate employer in the county) keen to develop a bespoke degree apprenticeship for the organisation with a local university. They were paying well over £500,000 into the scheme and wanted to make sure that they benefited however, the reasons they gave for doing so were:

graduates are expensive i.e. they expect a high starting salary;
graduates still need a high level of work related training [despite the high salary]; and 
retention i.e. graduates are not loyal and generally leave for more money [once they have completed the graduate training programme.

This suggest that recent graduates (and those who are at university) will find it even herder to find  a suitable job. It is clear that some universities are already making plans for future degree apprentice graduates - but what are they doing for those graduating now, and in the very near future, who have chosen the traditional route?

Is your organisation is changing plans for graduate recruitment?