Recent discussions about the way that information about the graduate jobs market is relayed has brought me to think about this long-burning question: what does 'good' look like?
What do people expect the graduate jobs market to look like? We have to bear in mind that at no time has the UK ever experienced full graduate employment, and anyone telling you that there was a period in the past when graduates all got jobs is misleading you. There was graduate unemployment in the 60s pre-Robbins, although the rate was lower. This is hardly surprising, since Robbins concluded - correctly - that we weren't producing enough graduates, and one symptom would be a very low unemployment rate.
At present, the unemployment rate after 6 months is below 10 per cent, which is better than it has been in previous recessions (depressing to use 'recession' to describe an economic situation which has been in place for 5 years, but that's the reality), but far below where it was in 2007. And opinions differ on the nature and extent of underemployment, but it's real, persistent and probably affects fewer than half of an employed graduate cohort after six months. It's not 'good' by an objective measure. But, under the circumstances? Is it as bad as we expected? Does it say anything about the quality of graduates?
So, what would a 'good' jobs market look like? Was 2006/7 a good jobs market? Probably, yes, but there were still high unemployment rates for some subjects - IT, most notably. Did we see that the market was good at the time? Possibly not. I don't recall the press being especially positive (and I have some pieces).
But what would be 'good' now? What are we hoping for? What do we expect? I'll be honest and say my hopes for the labour market have certainly become less ambitious - I'd be happy with 'not getting any worse' in 2013 and be very pleased with 'getting slightly better'.
But does it matter what the data says the jobs market looks like? No matter how we perceive it to be, there will still be individuals with their own experiences, who need information, advice and guidance to make decisions. No matter how difficult it might be at the moment, most graduates still get jobs and some business even expand and take people on. And even when the jobs market is at its supposed best, there would still be people who struggled.
There's no sign of a significant recovery - but there's also no sign of the graduate jobs market getting significantly worse. Let's hope that we can see some recovery - and be realistic about what we expect the graduate labour market to look like.