Tuesday, 1 February 2011

AGR survey gives cause for optimism

Onto the Association of Graduate Recruiters survey only a week late. Well, we can’t all run rolling news services.

The AGR Winter Survey, conducted by those excellent people at the Centre for Enterprise, came out last week. This is, of course, one of the key guides to graduate employment every year and, with the graduate job market still not as strong as anyone would like, this is a timely and useful piece of research.

The bulk of the coverage has been about the rise in jobs – AGR members recruited 8.9% more graduates in the 2009/10 recruitment round than in the previous year, the first increase since the recession began.

To compare, High Fliers report employers as expecting a 9.4% increase in vacancies this year, but whilst the AGR covers similar organisations, their survey sample is much larger – 222 employers replied to the AGR survey as opposed to High Fliers’ sample of 100.

It’s also worth noting that in the summer, AGR employers expected vacancies to fall by 6.9%, so recruitment went better than employers expected this autumn. This is more evidence that many of the graduates reported as 'unemployed' on graduation by the ONS last week will have found work by the time the destination survey took place in January - and some will be working in the jobs covered by the survey.

Most (92.8%) of respondent to the survey employ over 250 staff, and they are also disproportionately in London, in the private sector, and in the law, engineering and finance sectors. So, as with the High Fliers survey, this does not provide a complete reflection of the entirety of the job market, but is a very good guide to the highly sought-after blue-chip jobs that many graduates aspire to.

So, with the caveats out of the way, what else does the survey tell us?

Consulting and business services, insurance and IT/telecoms are all expecting large rises in numbers of vacancies, with law, construction, investment banking and accountancy anticipating falls in numbers. Public sector employers also see vacancies falling, but only by 2.4%, which is encouraging. 

When asking why they were increasing vacancies this year, employers stated that they expected their business to grow this year and that they were putting more of a strategic focus on graduate recruitment as the two main reasons – with the third being the fact that their business had grown already. 

Much the most important reason for reducing vacancy numbers was because of the current economic climate; there is little evidence of employers turning away from graduate recruitment as a business strategy. 

One interesting finding is that graduates seem to be hedging their bets more; employers think their biggest challenge this year will be graduates applying for multiple jobs at different organisations and so dropping out of job offers. Employers are also concerned about the way graduates perceive their sector (I suspect this will apply to some more than others) – these are areas where careers services may be able to help employers by making sure students are well informed about their options.

The Survey also looks at two hot topics – the role of school-leaver entry programmes (most employers don’t have one and most who don’t, don’t intend to introduce one this year) and the impact of the Browne Review. This last is interesting, as employers think that the two main effects will be graduates expecting higher starting salaries, and that there will be fewer graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds in future. As a result, employers are considering closer links with HE institutions and to start to engage students earlier in their studies.

Finally, as expected, the overall average starting salary at AGR members  is expected to remain static this year.

There is a great deal more information in the survey, but what it demonstrates is that employers expect a slightly better recruitment market this year, that there will be more jobs available for graduates and that employers see an important role for institutions in recruitment in the future. It’s not full recovery in the jobs market, by any means, but it is more optimistic.