Graduate ‘gold rush’ as firms fight to fill vacancies

·6 min read
graduate - The Image Bank RF
graduate - The Image Bank RF

When Ben* started looking for a job in the insurance industry after graduating last summer, he wasn’t expecting to have to apply for 150 positions to get his foot in the door somewhere.

“It got to a point where I couldn’t really be picky — 80pc of the places I applied to didn’t even respond,” the 24-year-old recalls.

“It took me about eight months from starting to look to finally being offered something, I think because there were almost two years of university students going for every one job [following lockdowns].”

But he’s noticed a change in recent weeks. After struggling to find anything last year, four headhunters have messaged him on LinkedIn about potential job opportunities in the last month alone. His industry is suddenly flush with vacancies.

After a tough few years for students and despite Britain now on the brink of recession, fresh figures released this week suggest life is finally looking up for the class of 2022.

Despite recent high-profile layoffs, a cost of living crisis and a crypto crash, job search engine Adzuna says the number of job vacancies has risen 59pc compared to this time a year ago amid severe staff shortages.

Graduate pay, meanwhile, has reached a six-year high of £26,000 due to runaway inflation. Average total pay growth in the private sector rose 8.2pc for the year to March, according to official data from the Office for National Statistics, as workers demand inflation-busting wage rises.

If Ben had graduated just a year later, it’s unlikely that his search would have been so arduous. The options are now plentiful: the traditional milkround has been revamped into a gold rush.

Those who fancy a career in retail can earn £44,000 and receive a fully expensed car in their first year at work on Aldi’s graduate scheme, while those angling for a City career can expect to earn far more.

Graduates at JP Morgan can now expect to start their working lives on a pay packet of up to £70,000 while those at a top law firm can rely on getting £50,000 in their first year of work.

These numbers grow quickly. Law firm Clifford Chance has boosted its starting salary for junior solicitors in their mid-20s to £125,000, up 16pc in the second pay rise in just over six months. Industry rival Akin Gump has also upped its offering, to £159,000.

Junior associates at City investment banks with around four years of experience, meanwhile, can look forward to taking home a base salary of £119,000 as well as an average bonus of £107,000.

If earning £200,000 by the age of 25 isn’t enough, most City firms are also now throwing in wellbeing perks that would have once been unheard of. Slaughter and May — one of the most conservative institutions in the City — has even told its lawyers that they can bring their dogs to the office amid a war for talent in the Square Mile.

The power dynamic has certainly shifted post-pandemic as companies fight to get talent through the door. Where once graduates would be putting in all the effort to land their first job, now companies are working harder than ever to impress.

Mark Hall, a headhunter at LHH, says all businesses are currently facing a “war for talent” which has forced them to create more junior jobs and cosy up with universities by organising job interview workshops and CV advice classes for students.

Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent for Clifford Chance, says companies are moving away from doing the traditional ‘milkround’ recruitment fairs after clocking that few potential employees are bowled over by branded corporate merchandise that ends up in landfill.

With job opportunities everywhere, more thought is going into what young people might want. “I don’t call it the great resignation. I call it the great negotiation,” JP Morgan’s asset management chief George Gatch told the Financial Times last week as he explained how the financial giant was working "hard" to appeal to the young and tech savvy.

But not all 2022 university leavers will find themselves overwhelmed with job offers. Companies are tightening their belts as they brace for a recession and double-digit inflation, leaving tech workers facing cuts from jobs which until recently would have seemed impenetrable.

Toronto-based Iris Guo, a computer science graduate who was on the cusp of starting her career at Twitter, was recently told during a 10.45pm video call that her position had been eliminated. “It was traumatic,” she told Reuters.

UK headhunters have also noticed many candidates seem nervous about their futures because they are “spreading their bets” across a number of different industries and professions rather than going for one ideal sector or role.

People tend to apply for fewer, more specific roles when feeling confident, explains one recruiter, adding that the current scattergun approach has made it much harder for companies to recruit. “Anyone else feel like graduating in 2022 is the worst?” one Reddit user recently posted.

With fortunes so divided, attention is increasingly turning to which degrees will bring the greatest rewards. Applications to study English at university fell by more than a third last year, compared to 2012, according to the admissions service UCAS..

Sheffield Hallam University has decided to suspend its English literature course in a controversial decision which Dr Mary Peace, an English literature lecturer at the university, suggested was made amid expectations of students being in a “highly-skilled” job within six months.

James Graham, the playwright behind the TV drama Sherwood, has been among those to rail against the decision. He argued on Twitter that if his drama degree at Hull was cancelled on the basis that students were not in skilled jobs within six months of graduating, he would not have become a writer and created Sherwood.

Meanwhile, strategist Tina Fordham, Citigroup’s former chief global political analyst, argues humanities degrees are vital in sectors such as finance too.

“You need people who can write and express themselves — people most successful in finance are often drawn upon these non-traditional backgrounds,” says Fordham, who studied English literature. “I don't really advocate that everyone goes into so-called practical fields [when studying].”

In a tight jobs market — with a shrinking unemployed talent pool and an increased number of adverts — employers would be wise to keep an open mind. As it stands, the royalties seem set to keep on rolling in.

*name has been changed

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