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Making Sense of the Graduate Jobs Market

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Around the start of every year, we get reports coming out on state of the graduate jobs market. In the last couple of weeks, two of the big players - High Fliers and the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), put out their winter reviews and they both agreed that last year things got a bit worse for hard-pressed graduates, but that this year will be a little bit better. Or, at least, that's what they think now.

But, how strong is the evidence from these reports? What conclusions can be drawn? Can the starting salaries for graduates really be over £25,000? If you see a job offering £20,000, should you just turn it down as being just too low?

High Fliers interviews the companies that makes up the current Times Top 100 Employers, a survey which asks finalists from certain universities which companies they'd like to work for and then draws up a list of the most popular employers from that data. These companies are then surveyed about their recruitment last year and how they expect things to go this year. As you'd imagine with that selection method, the companies tend to be large, well-known, London-based organisations offering very good salaries, particularly in the finance industry. Investment banking, a role that approximately 0.1% of last year's graduates took up, is particularly strong represented. As a result, you get an estimate of starting salaries for these companies of about £29,000.

This winter's AGR survey covers 197 recruiters that mainly operate large graduate training schemes. 61% of this year's survey respondents had one recruitment round, and only 2% actually recruit ad hoc. These are generally large, well-resourced recruiters with a planned graduate intake. This is reinforced by the finding that each of the AGR companies surveyed expects to take, on average, around 109 graduates on this year. Many of the companies surveyed in the AGR report are also surveyed in High Fliers, but with a broader base to draw on, the average salaries predicted are £26,500.

Both surveys provide a useful picture of a range of popular graduate job options, and if you want to work for a blue-chip graduate recruiter, probably in London, on a formal training scheme, these surveys will help inform your decision.

High Fliers has covered some interesting issues about work experience - many of the high profile employers surveyed recruit largely from the people they've sponsored or given sandwich years to over the course of their degree, and if you didn't get in on those schemes when you started university, you're at a big disadvantage. That's a move that has implications for the way we plan our careers.

The AGR survey explores the live news issue about school-leaver apprenticeship routes into graduate employers that some commentators think could signal the end of the need to go to university for young professionals. This idea gets rather short shrift from recruiters who point out that this move is to cover skills shortages in different areas and provides another route from graduate schemes.

Both surveys seem to agree that employers expect a modest improvement in the state of the economy - or at least the part of it that needs graduates - this year. These are important and useful pieces of information for young people alarmed and confused about the state of the jobs market and the messages they are getting from all sorts of sources.

But most graduates don't work in London, and most graduates don't work for these companies. These surveys do not represent the actual lived experience of most people who ever have or ever will go to university. They are interesting for all that, and they can give us a lot of useful information, but only about a certain part of the jobs market.

The reality for the majority of graduates this year is that their average starting salary will be about £20,000 - lower outside London. Most new graduates will get jobs, and will not get them on large graduate training schemes, but with small businesses and local firms - both public and private sector employers that are not covered by these surveys. It's ok to start your career on less that £20,000 in a small office somewhere outside London. Most people do, and it's a good way to start your career, get some experience under your belt and get thinking about what you really want to do.

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