Monday, 7 April 2014

First vs 2:1 - will not getting a First hurt your career hopes?



 This is  a version of a piece currently running at Guardian Careers here:

Guardian Student ran a recent piece looking at students who claimed to be prioritising employability over the best possible grade for their degree. Balancing university life involves negotiating the tension between the academic work required to get the best possible degree and the other demands on your time as a student, be they social, the financial need to work to support yourself – or ensuring you have the right mix of extra-curricular activity and work experience on your CV to make it stand out in a competitive jobs market. Indeed, the rigours of student time management are such that some institutions discourage term time working. So, in a sense, this is part of a long-term debate about how students can maximise their employability and whether it is necessary to get the best degree you can in order to thrive in the jobs market.


But are you better off going for a First, or by spending your time burnishing your credentials and perhaps sacrificing that top grade in order to get a really good, rounded CV? It’s a very good question.


So, let’s look at some data.


I am going to use the most recent graduate Destination (DLHE) data from HESA, the data from 2011/12 which looks at what graduates from that year were doing six months later. This sort of examination plays to the strengths of the DLHE, which covers 80% of all first degree graduates, as we’re just interested, for this analysis, at the first, most difficult, steps onto the employment ladder.


The initial findings are simple. People with Firsts are less likely to be out of work than people with lower grades. The unemployment rate after six months (if you include people who were not working at the time, but had a future job to go to) was 5.5% for Firsts, 8% for 2:1s, 11.9% for 2:2s and 16.1% for Thirds. 

That’s a pretty serious difference. But it doesn’t actually follow that Firsts are more likely to get jobs straight away – there’s not much of a difference in the rates of full time employment between Firsts and other grades – indeed, 2:1s have a marginally higher rate of full-time employment – 52.3%. 52% of graduates with Firsts were in full-time jobs after six months, whilst 50.1% of graduates with Thirds got full time jobs. You can see that in the graph below

Outcome after six months for graduates from 2011/12, by degree class awarded


In fact, graduates with Firsts were much more likely to take a postgraduate qualification, and, especially, to take a PhD, than graduates with other grades – even 2:1s. 59% of graduates from 2011/12 who went onto a PhD on graduation had a First. 


When it comes to the jobs graduates actually got, then there a real difference between outcomes for different grades. 77.3% of employed graduates with a First were in professional level jobs after six months. Meanwhile, 63.4% of those with 2:1s had got a professional level job. But, the majority of graduates with Thirds had also got professional level jobs – 53%. There were no professional level roles taken up by significant numbers of graduates from 2011/12 where more than half of the new entrants had a First. So, a First might help you get one of these jobs, but it usually isn’t an absolute necessity.



Of course, some recruiters only target graduates from certain institutions – are we seeing this effect in play? It so happens that graduates from Russell Group and similar institutions are rather more likely to get a First than graduates from other institutions, but nevertheless, someone with a First from a less prestigious institution was less likely to be out of work than someone with a 2:1 from a Russell Group. So there does seem to be a grade effect going on here.


In short, what does the data tell us about the effects of grade on early careers? 

  •  Most graduates get jobs 
Whether it’s a First or a Third, actually, despite the reports, most graduates do get work when they leave university
  • But it is probably going to be easier with better grades
People with Firsts do better in the jobs market.
  • There are few jobs you absolutely have to have a First and not a 2:1 in
At this point, we don’t see a lot of evidence of professions having so many Firsts to choose from that they don’t recruit 2:1s. It might help to have a First over a 2:1, but the boost is nothing like the difference between getting a 2:2 and a 2:1.
  • But it may make a real difference to your chances if you want to take a PhD.
As mentioned, most of the graduates who took PhDs after their first degree had a First last year. That’s a higher proportion of Firsts than for any job. With competition for funding so fierce, prospective doctoral graduates might want to concentrate on an excellent degree grade.

For most prospective career paths, you don’t need a First. But it might make things easier. Only the individual can judge what effort is going to be required to get a First and what they’d have to give up in the rest of their life to do it. Some may conclude it’s the smart move to stick with a 2:1 and top up their CV with experiences likely to attract an employer – but for some, it might be worth that extra push.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

On wanting more STEM teachers

There's a great letter in the FT today (he says, immediately referencing something he can't link to) on the subject of the supply of STEM teachers.

Sir Richard Lambert, author of one of my favourite Government Reviews (yes, I am the sort of person who has 'favourite Government Reviews' and there's nothing wrong with that) heads it, and it has a host of great and good from organisations such as Arup, Clifford Chance, Accenture, McKinsey, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, UBS, PwC, Rothschild, Deloitte and so on, all expressing their desire that we have more inspirational and passionate STEM teachers. Especially in maths.

There's more than a touch of irony here, of course, because the organisations are a roll-call of employers that target the highest-achieving STEM graduates (especially in maths) and offer them far more money than they'd get as teachers, in jobs where they don't get to face OFSTED inspections, compose lesson plans and be used as political footballs.

On the one hand, these organisations are saying 'we want more STEM teachers', and on the other, in other venues, they're saying 'but if you're really good, come and work for us for a lot more than you'd get as a teacher'.

I appreciate that things are a little more complex than that, but there's a real tension here.
We need to think very carefully indeed about how we convince STEM graduates to enter teaching when the very organisations who are urging them to, can also offer them compelling  reasons not to.

Edited at 19:49 because that last sentence was dreadful.

Monday, 13 January 2014

High Fliers 2014

It's early January, so it must be time for a High Fliers report on graduate recruitment.

Let's do the usual disclaimer at the outset. High Fliers only covers 100 employers, all high profile and well-resourced and so is best viewed as a survey of very well paid graduate schemes that are heavily biased towards London (87% of employers in the survey are recruiting in London. 20% of graduate start their career in the capital - enough said), towards Russell Group universities and towards the finance industry. If you're interested in that kind of job, then this survey is for you. It isn't as relevant to most graduates, especially the salary data, which does not paint a realistic picture of the rewards on offer for most new graduates and should not be seen as if it does.

The BBC covers all the usual points, so I will merely point at that report, remark that High Fliers is predicting that the graduate jobs market look as if it's on the up - the recruiters surveyed are anticipating an increase in vacancies of 8.7%, which suggests that for this group of employers at least, recruitment is getting back towards pre-recession levels at last - and concentrate on the bits that are not being reported as widely.

(New for 2014 - headings in blog posts!)

What happened last year

High Fliers do this every year and are honest enough to look back at the previous year's predictions and see if they matched up. Last January they reckoned a 2013 would see a 2.7% increase in graduate vacancies over 2012, and for their sample it came in at 2.5% in the end - not a bad track record. Investment banking and retail did worse than they expected, IT and 'public sector' (for High Fliers this basically means 'Teach First, NHS management and the Civil Service Fast Stream') did better. This year, at the moment, only the oil and gas and media employers in the sample think they'll have fewer vacancies than last year. It looks like employers are largely anticipating recovery.

56% of employers in the sample (or, er, 56 employers!) think they'll have IT vacancies. Maybe I'll revise my cautious assessment of IT graduate prospects.

Salaries static

The salaries section isn't actually terribly interesting as it bears little relation to the actual experiences of most graduates, but it's worth noting a couple of points. First is that the average starting salary for new graduates averages out at around £20,000, whilst High Fliers give £29,000. But that High Fliers average has stayed constant for 5 years now, and I think that will be mirrored across the graduate jobs market in general. Graduates are not going to see a jump in starting salaries - and I think pay rises are going to be meagre again this year.

Applications improving in quality

On applications, 41 employers had seen more applications than last year and 20 fewer. More encouragingly, 46 of the 100 employers felt that the quality of applications had increased. Although 9 felt quality had fallen this year, this is nevertheless one in the eye for the increasingly irksome 'Our graduates are all useless' lobby.

Newsflash - Work experience is important

High Fliers surveys usually have interesting things to say about work experience and this is no exception. 37% of recruits to these organisations came in through formal work experience programmes, and most of these employers offer paid work experience. But be careful - some sectors, most notably investment banking, actually have more work experience places than vacancies, so they're not a guarantee of employment. As usual, just over half the employers in the survey say an applicant with no work experience would find it very hard to get a role with them - but the converse is that nearly half will recruit applicants with no work experience.

In summary

It's a High Fliers survey, so don't concentrate on the vacancies numbers and salary figures unless you really think you're going to apply for one of these jobs. But the trends - vacancies up a little, salaries static, applications getting better, work experience crucial - are probably applicable across the jobs market in general.

Grab the report - it's free - and have a good read.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

What will the graduate jobs market be like in 2014?

I am obviously horrified and disgusted that those swine from the GRB have stolen my exciting and unique schtick and blogged about it in the Guardian.

Although I am heartened by the fact that, to be honest, I don't agree with bits of it.

Enough about the other lot, what do I think?

At this point I have no doubt you expect me to take 8,482 words to explain in detail, possibly with graphs, that 2014 is going to be much like 2013.

Well, I'm not. I don't have any graphs and I'm using a borrowed computer, because Reasons, and so I can't upload them anyway.

But mainly because I'm not sure 2014 is really going to be like 2013. I think 2014 is the year the graduate jobs market shows signs of recovery. Economic confidence is up, and manufacturing and services data looks a little more optimistic. Employers are predicting jobs growth. I'd expect the early graduate unemployment data in late June to show around 8%, a little down on the figures for the last few years.

I disagree with Anna's piece in the Guardian about IT - I would bet my brand new depressingly large mortgage that IT graduates will retain their unwanted place at the head of the unemployment league table. Things might pick up a little, but I don't see a large surge in IT graduate employment this year. Those who do get work will probably get decent salaries, and small businesses will remain very important - last year nearly a third of new computing graduates got jobs at companies with less than 100 employees, with recruitment companies and personal networks the most common way to find those jobs.

STEM - on the up?

The jobs market will probably improve for graduates from most science and engineering disciplines - particularly for engineers, who have really suffered over the last few years. Although there may well be growth in employment in small specialist engineers, especially those with a good export presence, engineering recruitment will continue to be dominated by the larger firms, and if you want to gauge the engineering jobs market as the year goes by, you could do worse than keep an eye on the big players. I'm not sure that the prospects for biology graduates will necessarily improve though - their jobs market seemed to worsen last year.

Financial and business services to grow

Economic recovery in the UK will necessarily involve growth in finance and business services. Marketing and PR has been a graduate success story in the last few years and has been drawing graduates in from all sorts of disciplines - the rise of digital media and content means that graduates with good IT skills have a niche in marketing - and I don't see any reason why that won't continue. I'm not sure we'll see a huge increase in financial services recruitment but we will probably see a little growth.

Cities on the rise

Although things are broadly positive, this recovery doesn't look very evenly shared out at the moment. It's pretty focussed on London and the south-east, although I'd expect those cities that have weathered the recession reasonably well - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, in particular - to probably share some of the joy. Aberdeen's unique jobs market will probably mean another good year for engineers and technical graduates wanting to move up there. But if you're outside those areas, particularly if you're in a smaller town, or in the north of England or Wales, you probably won't see much of a sign that the graduate jobs market is picking up at least at the start of the year. I expect regional and local differences to become more pronounced in the early part of the year - more graduates in the north-west and north-east moving to Manchester and Newcastle respectively, more graduates everywhere heading for London. It remains to be seen whether it'll be a temporary phenomenon or whether a small but subtle permanent realignment of skills concentrations is underway.

In summary

I think the Class of 2014 will find the jobs market a little more welcoming than their counterparts from the last two or three years. Not where it was pre-recession, but a little kinder. Unemployment in DLHE will be about 8% and starting salaries around £20k as they were this year. They'll still have to work hard - very hard in many cases - to find work, but they might find it a little easier and they'll have careers staff who are now well-versed in recession job-hunting to help them out. Happy New Year, and good luck to everyone.



Point And Laugh At Charlie

It's been a little while - I've been busy moving house (Top Tip - don't move house just before Christmas), and getting things ready in anticipation of the arrival of a new baby, who should be with us next week.

Plus, you know, data doesn't analyse itself. But there's time for an annual ritual - where I make a face and pretend I don't like to predict the future, before doing exactly that as I assess where I think the graduate jobs market will go in 2014.

But to whet appetites, let's first examine my post from this time last year.

It's here, so have a look at that first and then come back to me.

Well, let's be honest, I was actually pretty accurate. It was rather 'business as usual' in 2013 - the graduate jobs market didn't budge much, average starting salaries were actually fractionally above £20k (You're fired - Ed).

Some bits I got right - not much of a boost in STEM (in fact, things may have got worse for some scientists), although I was wrong about construction and civil engineering, which improved a little. It didn't noticeably get better for postgraduates either. But regional labour markets do seem to be diverging a little more, so that part of the prediction seems ok

So, all in all, I was broadly right (You're rehired - Ed), some of the detail a little out. So, what's going to happen in 2014? Find out next post, dear readers.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Is there anywhere else in the country with a comparable graduate population to London?

Here are the parts of the UK outside London where more of the working population are graduates than Greenwich in Inner London (quite a lot of Outer London falls into this category but the graph would be too big).


This is all people with HE qualifications. Edinburgh has a level of qualification that bears comparison with much of the rest of the country. But interesting to see places like Bristol, Manchester and Trafford on there.


'London is 60% graduate'

One of the interesting bits of the ONS 'Graduates In The Labour Market' report that has captured imaginations is the finding that 60% of people living in Inner London were graduates. The finding has not always been well reported, but it is still interesting.

It is, to use a phrase borrowed from Ben Goldacre, a bit more complicated than that.

Here is a graph using Annual Population Survey data analysed with NOMIS

This graph covers everyone with a degree level qualification or above, so everything from HND to PhD.

In blue - the proportion of the resident population with a degree. In red, the proportion of the resident, employed population with a degree. Wandsworth is very graduate. Greenwich is not as graduate (although it's very graduate compared with much the rest of the country). But you can also see some pretty interesting inqualities there. Just under half of those in Tower Hamlets have a degree, but nearly 70% of people with jobs have one. Now, if you're familiar with the area, you'll understand why, but even in Inner London, things are not homogenous, and they're even less so in Outer London, where Barnet has 49.9% of the population with degrees, whilst Havering has 20.6%.

But the same data shows that, by comparison, Manchester has a working population which is 49.4% graduate, so it would fit snugly in above Greenwich in a notional league table. The rest of the country outside Inner London is not a graduate-job-free wasteland. In fact, Inner London accounts for 8.6% of the UK's graduate population.

So when you read the headlines, don't think 'all of London'. This very graduate population is only in much of Inner London.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Graduates in the Financial Times

After the ONS report, let's take a look at this. I don't normally critique newspaper pieces on this blog for a range of reasons, but there gets to a point where you just have to say 'thus far, and no further'.

The Financial Times is the best UK newspaper. Let's get that straight now. And the piece that headlines their news section (Sub required, so I can't link it properly) today is probably broadly correct in its conclusion.

The centrepiece of the article is an analysis of Student Loans Company data to examine new graduate earnings, and the conclusion is that these are down 12% (in real terms) since the start of the crash in 2008. As average graduate earnings have barely budged in years - this is well-documented in DLHE data - and the cost of living has risen substantially (see everywhere, all the time), this is an unsurprising, if depressing, conclusion.

But SLC data, whilst interesting, needs caveats, and the FT doesn't do it properly. They state that it doesn't cover new graduates who were not earning enough for repayments and those who were not earning at all (without mentioning that these are often in PG study) but they fail to mention it also doesn't cover people who have already repaid (4% of the 2011 cohort according to the article, which is interesting in itself), and people who did not take a loan out in the first place. In other words, people at the highest end of the scale. With this in mind, I'd be more careful than the FT have been and say that a 12% fall in real earnings does not give a fully accurate picture of the whole range of earnings for recent graduates.

The piece also makes the extremely important point that these are the people we're relying on to fund the retirement of Britain's largest generational cohort, and this point could have been expanded more. Furthermore it refers to very interesting research from Oreopoulos, van Wachter and Heisz about the long term effects of graduating in a recession, using data from Canada from the 80s and 90s suggesting it might take 10 to 15 years in some cases for people's pay to recover from a start like that (still waiting in my case!)

But there are other concerns. The article uses High Fliers data, which, to be fair, it does make plain covers the 'top 100' employers, but if we strive for rigour we ought to be clear how the 'top 100' is gathered and how relevant that is to the wider graduate experience. The narrative in the article about the London Graduate Fair and the finance industry does have the whiff that these are the only jobs that matter. They aren't.

But what's the most alarming is the appearance of perhaps the hoariest cliche in the current graduate jobs debate - the idea that, at one point, a degree once guaranteed you a good job, and now it doesn't.

When was this magical time supposed to have been? It wasn't the early 90s, when early graduate unemployment was much higher than it is now. It wasn't the 80s, although the latter end did have 5 years when unemployment rates were a little better than they are now. In 2004, Leonard Schwarz published a magisterial analysis in the Historical Journal, of the interactions between universities, graduates and the jobs market between 1870 and 1970, that in my ideal world, would be required reading for everyone wanting to comment on the jobs market. It was clear from his research that this time of guaranteed graduate jobs wasn't pre-war either. My favourite bit of the Schwarz paper is where he uses historical data to show that in 1922, one arts graduate from a Midlands university got a job in industry. As a rail clerk. Things are better now.

This golden age for graduate appears to be a half-remembered conception of the graduate jobs market in the 60s and early 70s, when the UK was just expanding the provision of institutions and we arguably did not have enough graduates to fill demand. This actually lasted quite a short time.

Telling young people that there used to be an effective guarantee of employment for graduates, but now there isn't, is not accurate. I'm not clear what it's supposed to achieve. Is it supposed to foster a sense of grievance amongst new graduates about how easy people before them had it? Is it supposed to make them think they've been gulled by people misselling university? I have never seen anyone actually say 'if you go to university, you'll get a job', and anyone who has seen me present to young people will attest how tedious I can be about the limits of the promises we can make about university. Is it supposed to make us think that the 'natural' state of the jobs market when we aren't in recession, is for graduates not to have to try too hard to get a job? That strikes me as an especially bad message to give.

The real situation is that, far from a degree at one point being a 'guarantee' of a job, the reality is that graduates in most disciplines always have and always will have to work to get a good career.  We need to make sure this message is front and centre when talking to young people about university and not spin them lines.

The FT has a valuable message - like most people, new graduates have seen their earnings growth outstripped by the rise in the cost of living. It may be a relatively deeper fall for this group than workers as a whole (although in the light of the ONS report today outlining how much more HE graduates earn, it may be that this isn't significant in the long term). This may have a long term effect on the earnings of a cohort of graduates whose earnings should be of national interest due to our reliance on them to aid in economic recovery and to fulfil obligations to new pensioners.

But it is wrapped in some dodgy assertions and questionable uses of data. It's supposed to be the first in a series of examinations of the graduate jobs market in recession. Let's see what happens next.

ETA to add in 'early' to the statement about the 70s. The late 70s were not a bed of roses for new graduates either!

Graduates In The Labour Market

The ONS has released their annual examination of Labour Force Survey data for graduates, Graduates In The Labour Market.

This report covers, as the ONS are at pains to mention, everyone with a qualification above A-levels, from HND right up to PhD, but unfortunately some commentators have already seen the word 'graduate' and assumed we're talking about BAs and BScs. This is obscuring what is a genuinely interesting and useful report, if slightly hampered by treating HNDs alongside PhDs.

It's also important to stress - as the ONS haven't always made plain in the past, but do so much better now - that this covers only people who are not enrolled in education. This does make some of the data for younger graduates a bit tricky as so many of them continue as postgraduates - but the ONS are very clear about this now. 

The upshot is unsurprising - if you go to university you'll probably earn more and have a better job than someone who didn't go, but the recession has made it harder for people who have recently gained HE qualifications. Also, there are lots of doctors, nurses and teachers. So far, so rather obvious.

The more creatively-used data is much more interesting. We start with the bald statement - 11,989,000 people in the labour market have degrees. 12 million people. That's 38% of the working age population. Not exactly 'everyone has a degree nowadays', but a respectable number, and up from 17% 20 years ago.

There's a section on non-graduate employment, but I'm a bit sceptical about the value of this bit. This is an area where bundling all HE qualifications doesn't work, in my view.
Furthermore it is opaque what the ONS define as 'non-graduate'. Changes in SOC make this problematic, and issues with current definitions of 'graduate level' make it more difficult still, especially for courses leading to roles in nursery education or roles like social care and classroom assistants. It is quite likely - even probable - that a difficult jobs market has led to increased underemployment of graduates, but I don't think this data really sheds a lot of light on that particular phenomenon. I'd rather see it broken down by type of degree so we can really get in amongst the issue as it stands.

What's really interesting is wage profiles by age. Graduate salaries peak later than everyone else's, but also drop off a lot more by age (which is firstly reassuring, and then alarming). What this tells me is that we have a very serious gap in understanding of graduate career trajectories.

There's another bit on the depressing gender pay gap, and then a seriously interesting bit on the proportion of graduates in regional jobs markets. 60% of people living in Inner London was a graduate. It is a different country. There are things you can do with data available on NOMIS that shed more light on this, and if I get the time, I'll have a look.

Well worth having a look at the data tables as well - some interesting nuggets on parents of dependent children and the median age of graduates (those Inner London graduates are, on average, younger than graduates elsewhere as well) that don't make it into the data table.

Just don't forget here: 'graduate' means 'someone with a qualification above A level'!






Friday, 8 November 2013

How do graduates find jobs?

One interesting question that destination data can be used to examine is the question of how graduates find their jobs and if there are differences between different groups.

DLHE actually asks this question, so let's look at the data, but also broken down by age - different cohorts may use different ways to look for work.

The first graph looks at everyone who was working after six months and gave an answer to the question of how they'd found their jobs. N, in this case, is 98,360. That's a pretty big sample.

A third of graduates over 40 were already working for their employer - quite consistent with a lot of part-time students doing continuing professional development. Younger graduates were more likely to use job sites (like prospects.ac.uk) or personal contacts. Also much more likely to use their careers service.



Professional networking also bundles in social media, but it's basically an attempt to capture LinkedIn and the like. This will be a bit more obvious in the next DLHE

But if you're an employer wondering if there's a difference in job-seeking habits by age, then you aren't that interested in people who are already working for you. You've found them. How do people who didn't already work for their employer look for jobs?

Yep, there are differences, all right.


You advertise your job on LinkedIn, you will, unsurprisingly, get older people who already have established networks. Your younger applicants are using their careers service, or prospects.ac.uk and the like, or personal contacts. Older applicants are using your website and newspapers.

This data isn't perfect. There are naturally recall issues. Sure, the graduate may have made the final click or call from a website or agency, but how did they find that site or agency? But this is really interesting data and I'm sure there's more useful and interesting things that can be done with it.

But it does suggest that different groups graduates have different ideas about how they look for work.