Competition still fierce as grad vacancies go up

Timothy Barber
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THE graduate recruitment market is showing significant signs of improvement in 2010 after being brought to all but a standstill by the recession, according to two recently published reports. But while there is positive news, many of this year’s graduates will be lucky to see its effects, with competition remaining extremely intense.

A study published in January by High Fliers Research, in which 100 leading graduate employers were polled, said that companies are expecting to hire 12 per cent more grads in 2010 than they did in 2009.

Meanwhile, a bi-annual survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), which polled 214 major employers, showed that dramatic recruitment cuts expected last year did not fully materialise, with graduate vacancies in 2009 falling by 8.9 per cent instead of the 24.9 per cent it predicted in the summer. Carl Gilleard, chief executive of AGR, said the survey “suggests that the graduate employment market is starting to normalise and to begin the process of recovery.”

It has a long way to go, however. One sign of the problems still facing it is the fact that, for the first time in the AGR survey’s 20-year history, average graduate salaries have been frozen for two years in a row. While companies are gradually increasing their quotas as they look to grow out of the downturn, they are minimising their costs by keeping pay packages static. While those heading into the City can still expect to earn reasonable amounts – with starter salaries for investment bank employees averaging at £38,250 – the average graduate salary of £25,000 will not make life easier for those who have been the first to pay top-up tuition fees throughout their degree.

That’s assuming they get a job in the first place. In an already tough environment, this summer’s university leavers are finding themselves in competition for jobs with those who missed out in 2009, while other vacancies have been filled by 2009 grads whose offers were deferred.

The market may remain saturated for some time. Martin Birchall, director of High Fliers, says that the recession has exacerbated a problem that was already likely to occur as a result of the government’s determination to increase numbers of students. He says 50,000 more people graduated in 2009 compared to 2006, into a job market that had been cut by a quarter.

“In the past 15 years, the number of graduates each year has more than doubled from 150,000 to over 300,000. Government policy has been to send more and more people to university, and the graduate employment market hasn’t kept up.”

One trend among last year’s graduates who failed to receive job offers was to extend their education by studying for masters degrees – a group who will add further to the influx of job seekers in the summer. Elspeth Farrar, director of the careers advisory service at Imperial College, warns against this as a course of action for the class of 2010. “A masters in itself won’t make companies look at you differently, and for most jobs you’ll be going in at the same level,” she says.

The onus instead is on students to be as proactive as possible in accruing experience that will attract employers. In a market where four As at A-level and a 2:1 for a degree are seen as basic requirements rather than markers of excellence, extra curricular pursuits that show enterprise and ambition, as well as applying for internships and placements, are the elements that separate out successful candidates from the crowd.

“Students have to really get out there and prove their worth long before they’ve graduated,” says Mike Barnard of graduate recruitment website Milkround. “They need to get references as widely as they can, and if internships are full they need to be willing to shadow people and gain trade experience any way they can. It’s a case of survival of the fittest.”


I’ve been working as an analyst for an investment bank for the past three years, but I’m thinking of leaving the City for a career in teaching. What will this involve?

I would advise you first of all to gain some classroom experience to help with the decision on whether teaching is right for you. It may also inform your choice between primary or secondary teaching. It’s worth noting that most teacher training course providers require at least two weeks experience in a classroom. If you have no idea of how to go about getting this experience, contact the Teaching Information Line (0845 600 0991) and ask for an Open School visit to spend a day in a school. Alternatively, if you feel more strongly that teaching is for you, you can try out a three day taster course. See for details.

If you decide to proceed, you need to work out which training route would best suit you. The most common route is the one-year Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which combines study at a higher education institution with school placements. But you could also consider employment-based teacher training, in which you train and qualify while working in a school.

Once you’ve decided that, you should make contact with your local teacher training provider. The General Teacher Training Registry website contains profiles and information on each provider at

After training and then gaining qualified teacher status, you will enter your induction year. This is a three-term period of assessment, usually completed in a single school year. It will build on what you have already learnt in your initial teacher training (ITT) and include a personalised programme of professional development and support.

You’re going to have to accept the fact that you’re going to be earning a lot less than you would in the City. However, many people are surprised by how much you can earn as a newly qualified teacher, and the earning potential as your career progresses. A newly qualified teacher’s salary starts at £26,000 in London, and you can progress to a leadership pay scale, or even eventually to a headship pay scale. Head teachers can earn in excess of £100,000.

As well as your basic salary, you can also receive a range of useful benefits, including additional money if you take on added responsibilities, a tailored programme of continued professional development and, of course, 13 weeks holiday a year.