Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Half graduate recruiters cut jobs

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The downturn is not as pronounced as in 1991, the association says

The number of UK graduate vacancies this year is expected to be down for the first time since the 2003 dot.com collapse, a survey of recruiters shows.

The recession's impact is clear in the winter edition of the Association of Graduate Recruiters bi-annual survey.

Overall vacancies are down 5.4% on last year, with starting salaries frozen at the 2008 average of 25,000 and down as much as 8% in the financial sector.

But some sectors - such as engineering and food and drink - want more people.

Association chief Carl Gilleard said: "The only certainty is uncertainty."

The association represents hundreds of big recruiters of graduates in the private and public sectors, and 245 - who between them recruited 21,144 graduates last year - contributed to the latest survey.

Just under half of the organisations (46%) expected to hire fewer graduates this year - two thirds of them saying this was due directly or indirectly to the economic downturn.

But the downturn is not as pronounced as in 2003, and nothing like as bad as in 1991 and 1992, when vacancies fell by 32% and 14%.

'Silver linings'

However the survey last summer turned out to be inaccurate. It had predicted a 12% rise in vacancies whereas it is now clear the slowdown had already begun.

Nevertheless this year's report says: "By and large, while no-one doubts the seriousness of the current economic downturn, the picture for graduate recruitment, though worrying, could be bleaker.

"There are even some silver linings with growth predicted in the engineering and public sectors - both of which are likely to appeal to graduates seeking job security this year."

The biggest growth in job vacancies, at 12.9%, is expected to be in the so-called FMCG sector: fast moving consumer goods such as food, drink, tobacco and cosmetics.

Traditionally this would favour women graduates, with a 58% / 42% gender split.

The biggest decline is in investment banking - down 28%, while construction is 16.6% down on last year.

London and the south-east of England as ever account for the lion's share of vacancies, (55.9%), with 10.5% in the Midlands, 5.2% in Scotland, 1.5% in Wales and 0.9% in Northern Ireland.

'Apply early'

Employers' advice to those who do not get their ideal job straight away is to take some form of paid work if they can - rather than doing further study, unless it enhances their employability.

Only 40% thought taking a year off was a sensible move.

Graduates should thoroughly research the firms they want to work for - and half of the employers said applying early would be particularly important.

The shadow innovation, universities and skills secretary, David Willetts, said the survey made sober reading.

"Employers are feeling the pinch and cutting jobs as a result. This problem is made worse by the difficulty they face in finding graduates with the right skills."

This was echoed by IT companies. Software firm Micro Focus, which builds and supports major enterprise systems, said UK businesses simply could not find UK graduates with the skills they needed.

"These systems run UK plc, but the people to maintain them are dwindling fast and universities simply aren't supplying the graduates for the job," chief executive officer Stephen Kelly said.

Debt

The government is telling young people not to be put off going to university. England's Higher Education Minister David Lammy said it was still and always would be a good investment.

"People considering applying to university should do so. A degree can help you not only get your first job but also throughout a career that may span up to 45 years."

In England the graduates facing this tougher market are the first to have accumulated debts from all three years of tuition fees on their courses.

The University and College Union said it had always opposed forcing students into greater levels of debts and disputed the "graduate premiums" the government used to sell debt to potential students.

"Those policies have ensured that thousands of new and recent graduates are entering an incredibly competitive job market with record levels of student and commercial debt," a spokesman said.

The National Union of Students said it was not only graduate jobs that were at risk in the downturn.

"Many students have to work part-time to finance their studies, and we may see more of them having to drop out if they lose these jobs.

"Those vice-chancellors who are arguing for the cap on fees to be lifted in the coming year must think again, unless they want to plunge a generation of students and graduates into even worse debt during a time of economic crisis."



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