Graduates may not get the job they want straight away, but in the end it is those without degrees who suffer most in recession
For most of us, it isn’t really news that the economy is struggling: new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have recently confirmed that Britain went back into recession at the end of last year and we’re still in a double dip. But should students and graduates be worried?
No. Even if the economic data signals a return to recession, exacerbated by the ongoing eurozone crisis, any bad news on the economic front does not necessarily mean certain career disaster for today’s young and prospective workers.
Historically, even during the very worst UK graduate jobs market (which, facts fans, was in 1982, when 13.2% were out of work six months after graduation) most university graduates got jobs. In the last recession, when we saw the first run on a bank for 150 years and the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s, the unemployment rate for graduates after six months didn’t get above 9% – too high, yes, but most graduates still got jobs.
It is the people with lower qualifications who suffer the most during recession. At present, about a third of the UK working population have some form of higher education qualification – when surrounded by other people in education, it’s sometimes hard to recognise that most people in the UK have not been and never will go to university.
A recent ONS survey showed that youth unemployment is at its highest since the 1980s, rising in each of the last three recessions. But the most common jobs sought by young jobseekers in 2011 were in customer service and elementary occupations. While some graduates do start their careers in these roles, they’re mostly occupied by people without degrees.
Simply saying “we’re in recession” doesn’t really affect how employers approach the jobs market, in the same way as the actual business conditions in their marketplace do.
Employers know what their market conditions are and have been dealing with the actual consequences of the current economic state daily. The Winter AGR Survey of graduate employers was conducted when Britain was already in recession. It showed that employers were largely cautious and concerned about the economy, but that hiring intentions were not much different to last year’s.
Essentially, many graduate employers have already priced in a weak economy into this year’s recruitment plans, and whether or not that outlook manifests as anaemic growth or technical recession is not especially important once those decisions have been made.
As a result, we can probably expect hiring to be as good as or better than last year in IT, engineering, energy and utilities; but in some sectors, especially investment banking, it is likely to be well down on last year.
A degree doesn’t guarantee you a job – it never has at any point in UK history. Graduates will still have to work hard to get employment, and may not get the position they want straight away.
But student and graduate jobseekers should not get too perturbed by the news of recession. They will need to get all the help and support they can, visit university careers services, use advice sites, don’t get disheartened, and above all, continue to apply for jobs.
In the end, students will probably get a job in time, but the more resources they draw on, the quicker and easier that will be. Oh, and keep an eye on the eurozone, of course.
Charlie Ball is deputy director of research at the Higher Education Careers Services Unit