Monday, 14 July 2014

Destination data - we're looking a lot better this year


We now have DLHE data, and work is now under way on What Do Graduates Do, which will look at destination data in the traditional detail.

The first impression is that outcomes for 2012/13 graduates are a marked improvement on last year, as is being reported elsewhere.

Here are the basics, for all graduates (the HESA press release tends to look just at full-time graduates, we look at all graduates, part time and full time).  The employment rate is up and the unemployment rate is quite a bit down.

Let’s take a look at that unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent, as it’s interesting. The last times the graduate unemployment rate after six months fell by more than one percentage point in a year were in 1995/6 (from 8.1 per cent to 6.9 per cent) and then again in 1996/7 (from 6.9 per cent to 5.7 per cent) as the economy recovered from the recession of the early 90s. 7.3 per cent is the lowest unemployment rate for graduates after six months since before the recession, in 2006/7.

This data shows all the signs of a recovery in the graduate jobs market, and the lessons of previous recessions tell us that if this has started in earnest (and it may not – the early 90s recovery was patchy and it might happen again), it’s likely to take place over a couple of years (so there’s a good chance that the jobs market will continue to improve) and will then level off. If I were a betting man – which I’m not, because, you know, statistics  – I would put my money on that levelling off not taking place for another couple of years yet. Next year is crucial. If we see another clear improvement in graduate outcomes, we can declare a Proper Recovery for graduates and look forward to the employment rate (inc. work and study) creeping up towards 80 per cent and the unemployment rate down to around the 6 per cent mark. 

The news is not all unalloyed good, of course. It looks like the extra jobs are not evenly distributed at all and that recovery has increased both the number of graduates working in London, and London’s overall share of graduate employment. Other cities have also done well (Manchester particularly, by the look of things), but I’ve got mixed feelings about a graduate recovery that entrenches London’s position. I’d rather see jobs better distributed for the wider national economic health. Maybe if recovery continues we will see a more even share of the spoils next year. Let’s hope so.

In the meantime, let’s be happy that, for graduates, we appear to be embarking on a recovery, that these improved figures will reflect very hard work from students and from the people who guide them, but bear in mind that very many will still find it hard to make the next steps on their career after graduation, and we need to help them.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

"47% of graduates are not in a graduate job". Time to slay another zombie.

Back in November, the ONS produced a report on graduates in the labour market, which I blogged about at the time. 

I mentioned a few reservations I had about the way some of the data was being interpreted and was particularly sceptical about the widely-reported section on non-graduate employment. 

Well, turns out that bit is now shambling around in the wild and people are quoting a figure of '47% of graduates in non-graduate jobs'  in various places without due care and attention. 

Load up the data shotguns, we've got a zombie to slay!

Let's go to the data for the Graduates In The Labour Market report to find out what that stat really means. The ONS are great and give us all the raw data in their report along with explanations of it. The tab we want on the spreadsheet is titled 'M&F Occupation Skill Level'. 

Here is what the ONS mean by 'graduate': 
A graduate is defined as a person who is aged over 20, not enrolled on any educational course and who has a level of higher education above A level standard.
Get that? The ONS are not referring just to first degree undergraduates as many of the places the stat is being used imply. They mean anyone who leaves with any kind of qualifications from HE - and they explicitly say so.

So anyone who has got any kind of HE qualification is included – including all those people with HND, Foundation Degrees and diplomas, many of which have legitimate career aims that don’t fall under the ‘high to medium’ level skills banner – all those health and beauty qualifications, anything to do with childcare or nursery nursing, any care assistants, any skilled trades or crafts-people – all of those, even if they've taken an HND in Plumbing and have become a plumber or an Early Years Foundation degree and become a nursery nurse, are counted as ‘not being in graduate employment’. 

The figure means very little as a measure of ‘success’ as a consequence - after all, a lot of this '47%' have achieved exactly what they set out to do and what their courses are designed to deliver  - and it really ought not to be used in contexts that specifically examine first degree undergraduates without an explanation that, actually, it doesn't refer just to them.

If people are using this figure in the full understanding that it refers to all qualifiers, then that's fine - it does. 

If people are reading this statistic and thinking or being led to think that 47% of Bachelors graduates from the last 5 years had got jobs that didn't need degrees, then that's not fine. That's not what the ONS said, and it's not what the data shows.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

It's DLHE Day!

Let joy be unconfided, the DLHE Strategic First Release is here.

DLHE is superb, a huge, fascinating census of early graduate outcomes that is the envy of higher education systems around the world, and the result of a lot of hard work from careers staff around the country that deserves more recognition.

I don't have my dataset just yet, so let's take a look at the release and all the splendid data in it and see what it tells us. 

Fundamentally, things look better than they did last year. Across the board, at all levels, employment seems to be up and unemployment down for part-timers and full-timers. I'm sure when we come to delve into the data, there will be groups who have done better than others.

Slightly fewer full-time graduates seem to have gone into management, but a lot more into professional and associate professional roles, leading to a boost in both the proportion and number of graduates getting professional level employment.

In industry data, we seem to have seen a fall in the number of graduates entering local and central Government (driven by large falls from Wales and Scottish HEIs - for English HEIs, the numbers rose), and defense roles, but a rise everywhere else, especially in health, education, professional and scientific services and manufacturing. 

A quick look at subject data and comparison with last year's suggests that, at least for full-time graduates, outcomes have improved for pretty much all subjects, with science in general and architecture and building students in particular seeing better data. Employment seems to be up for everyone and unemployment down. 

That said, whilst the data looks positive - it's also clear that graduates might be seeing a recovery in their prospects, but there's still a long way to go. We're not back to where we were before the recession and if we ever do get back into that territory (personally, I think we will), then it's not going to be for a while yet.

So it looks like mildly good news, but there will still be students and graduates who struggle with the jobs market and we can still help them. I will, of course, be doing all sorts of things with the data when we get it, so stay tuned. There'll probably be graphs.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

It's ok not to know what you want to do with your career....to a point.

My last post looked at the phenomenon of just not knowing what to do with your career, and whether it was unusual.

The answer is: It isn't unusual.

But, what effect does not knowing what you want to do, have on your early career? I've delved back into Futuretrack to take a look again at the situation three years into the degrees of Futuretrack respondents, so in 2009 (four year degree students were surveyed in 2010).

Most students got jobs. But students who didn't have a clear idea about their career plans in their third year were a little less likely to be in work, a bit less likely to be in further study, and rather more likely to be out of work. 

You don't have to have a plan by your third year at university - most graduates who didn't have one still had jobs - but you might be better off if you do by that point. 

It's ok not to know what you want to do - but it's probably better to have started to have an idea about it by the time you're gearing up to graduate. The question here is: is it better to have an idea about your future career even if it turns out to be a 'mistake', than have no idea at all. Worth looking into, I think.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

I just don't know what to do with myself

Have been thinking about my visit to the Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough, and my thoughts turn to Dusty Springfield.

I was impressed with the building and with the staff, but particularly with the excellent and perceptive questions I got from the students themselves. I did two sessions and I got a variation of the same particularly good question both times.

"What if I don't know what I want to do with my career?"

I told the students that it's ok not to know what they want to do now. As they are still at school, it's going to be ok for them not to have a clear view on their future career for quite a while longer, and I think it's important, in an environment where young people are asked to make profound, life-changing decisions at a young age without necessarily having all information they need to make those decisions in a completely informed way, to reassure them that it's ok if they're not sure what they want to do.  

Futuretrack data looks at students who entered university in 2006.

At the time that the applied to university, 73% felt that they had some kind of clear idea what they wanted to do after graduation, but by the end of their first year, this was down to 64%. At this point 10% of students said that their university experience had made them less clear about their career plans and 5% said that they had changed completely.

By their third year, 14% of students said that university had made their career plans less clear and 16% said that they had changed completely, and by the time the Futuretrack cohort were surveyed for the last time in 2012, between 18 and 30 months post-graduation, 67% felt that they had a clear view of a clear idea about the occupation they hoped to have in 5 years' time and the qualifications required to do so.


For young people, being unsure about your career direction is common, and it's ok. UK degrees are flexible and as we know, allow a wide range of options, so students don't have to commit themselves before they're ready.

I wonder if being sure about your future career at 16 is always that good a thing; I was absolutely sure what I wanted to do at 16, and it was only after I had spent my entire educational career working towards that end that it transpired it was not what I wanted or needed. That journey wasn't wasted, but it could have been less stressful.


Friday, 13 June 2014

All about The Kids

I speak at a lot of events. You might even have had the dubious pleasure of seeing me roll out some of my elderly gags (the World Cup one has 1 year of life left in it, so be sure I will be milking it to death in 2014). I talk to all sorts of audiences about a wide range of questions in graduate employment and information, but there is one kind of gig that always gives me a special mix of enjoyment and fear.

That's when I go into schools. I'm doing another one of these days on Monday, and I love them because I get to speak directly to learners who are yet to go into HE (and who may not go), and I worry about them because I want to be sure I am giving an appropriate message.

I assume that they're getting guidance from their teachers and, ideally, advisors as well. I also assume that even if they're not doing it directly or if they are conscious of it, they are absorbing all kinds of opinions and views of university from their family, peers and the media. 

So, my main approach is not to hit Year 12 with a big rolling wave of graphs and data, but to discuss some of the myths, yarns and memes that they may have picked up about university and give them as objective a view I can of the whole process and of the likely outcomes if they do go to university. Followers of the blog and who've seen me speak will know the usual stuff - Graduates Can't Get Jobs, Everyone Goes To University These Days, All The Jobs Are In London and the like.

This time I've decided to rework the presentation to give us a chance to discuss how to spot dodgy myths about HE.

I'm a bit nervous, to be honest, but then I get nervous before all my events - it keeps me on my toes. I wonder how it will go down - guess we'll find out next week.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Jobs, skills and the importance of data



Having returned from a fortifying break, my attention was captured by a piece of work from the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank, on behalf of the Edge Foundation, an organisation championing vocational routes into work, entitled, 'Winning the Global Race? Jobs, skills and the important of vocational education'.
The report essentially concludes exactly what you’d expect such a report to conclude – that more young people should be taking vocational routes into work, and excited a little media comment last week whilst I was eating ice-cream and haring around Northumberland looking at unusual inscriptions on buildings.

The basic premise of the paper seems to be stated up front – too many people are going to university and some of those that do should be taking vocational routes and here is some data, taken from Working Futures about future skills demand.
Now, there is a recognised issue with the supply of people into technical occupations, which are largely level 3 (A-level equivalents)  and suffer from the tendency of A level students to proceed on to university and not enter the jobs market.

There are, of course, minor concerns – all projections are subject to error and it would be trivial to merely dismiss the paper on those grounds, and so I won’t. All papers are ‘flawed’ in one way or another, even, incredible though it sounds, my own, and so just because something is ‘flawed’ doesn’t stop it being useful. The question is how.

Let us examine the data, particularly on Table 3.1 in the report. The IPPR use UKCES data to look at job creation, and job replacement demand, to build a picture of where they feel skills will be required. Here, the IPPR conflate ‘new’ jobs, created by economic expansion, and which are, as the authors show, largely  being created at the higher skilled end of the jobs market (indeed the Bank of England showed in 2009, very nearly all jobs created between 1996 and 2007 were at graduate level), with replacement demand, created by retirement, to come up with an idea of the skills balance that the working population requires. 

Unfortunately, they use the word ‘created’ interchangeably for both new positions and to describe the positions freed up and this gives the impression that the economy is going to generate a lot of entirely new jobs at lower skills levels when it isn’t necessarily. Positions will be created; the data suggests actually outright new roles will not in anything like those numbers. This is important when we consider changing the skills balance in the economy and goes hand in hand with another issue that is not touched upon in the report; the number of young people entering the jobs market at 18 is set to fall, year on year, to 2020 and will not return to the current levels until the middle of the next decade.

Assuming that the proportion of young people entering university stays the same – and that seems a reasonable assumption as it’s been static for a while now - between now and 2022, we’ll see approximately 3,650,000 young people enter university.  You can calculate this by taking the figures from here and looking at the projected populations of 18 year olds for each year, and then taking 45% of that figure to represent the participation rate for young people. This gives you a figure that is almost certainly a touch on the high side, but let’s stick with it.

Table 3.1 of the IPPR report says that by 2022, the net demand for high skill jobs – graduates, in other words – will be 5,049,000. And that is even before you add in the 3,640,000 jobs at medium skills levels, 37% of which are currently taken by graduates and equivalent, that we are expected to  need. When we look at the figures in those terms, the idea that we have too many graduates when we're probably going to get a lot fewer than 5,000,000 new graduate entrants to the jobs market in the next ten year starts to look like a very hard sell.

Another plank of the IPPR’s assertions is that 20% of people in ‘low skilled’ jobs are graduates and this is good evidence that demand for graduates has not kept up with supply. Well, there is the rather basic point that the same figures show that 19% of people in low-skilled jobs have NQF 3, so presumably we have an oversupply of those too – something that would rather contradict the central point of the report. But more seriously, the question does not arise as to why 20 per cent of this group have degrees – the presumption seems to be that because they happen to be doing jobs that lie at a particular part of the SOC classifications that therefore you don’t or shouldn’t need a degree to do them. 

Unfortunately, some of the major groups university leavers fall into here include administrative and secretarial occupations – office jobs where the boundaries between whether a degree is required or not are notoriously blurred and where the evidence suggests that many graduates start their career before moving into occupations that are less equivocally graduate – and caring personal services occupations – that large, contentious group I’vementioned before that includes nursery nurses and teaching and healthcare assistants, for which specific higher education courses exist and which the Government has, in many cases, explicitly stated they want to make graduate. Many of these occupations also have HND or Foundation Degree routes available – qualifications considered to be degree-equivalents in studies such as these but which are often neglected, especially when it helps a conclusion or a headline to think that everyone coming out of a university is leaving with a standard Bachelor’s degree, as the researchers or headline writers tended to have done. With that in mind, it doesn’t really work to declare that university leavers who have taken a course designed for a specific outcome, and who have then achieved that outcome, are underemployed because a SOC classification falls into a particular category. 

In the end, the report makes deceptively bold assertions. The idea that at some indeterminate point relatively recently, the direction of travel of the UK jobs market suddenly changed and rather than creating new positions at high skills levels as it has for probably a decade and a half at least, started creating them at medium and low skills levels is not impossible, but it would be unusual and the report does not convince with the level of evidence. It is also that there is a significant oversupply of graduates into the economy and that the issue has increased, with the data rather less robust and the nuances rather more significant than the bold assertions of the report.

There is an important debate to have about the size and shape of a future UK economy and about how post-16 options shape up. There appears to be a particular issue with how we ensure a steady supply of workers into crucial technician roles in STEM when the groups we might ordinarily expect to take them are taking degrees instead. I'm not sure that the answer is really to discourage people from university study, though.

 I share the concerns of the authors of the paper that we need more and better information about vocational routes into work, so we can judge all options for young people fairly. This is an early entry into the discussion, but there’s a lot more talking to do before the opening arguments are crystallised.