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Record applications as graduate jobs recovery lags

Clare Tregaskis - ISE

Competition for graduate jobs reached a record high this year as applications soared and recruitment failed to bounce back from the lockdown slump of 2020, reports the Institute of Student Employers (ISE).

Companies responding to ISE’s Student Recruitment Survey 2021 represent some of the UK’s largest employers of graduates and school leavers. They received an average of 91 applications per graduate vacancy, which is a 17% increase on last year and the highest number since the ISE began collecting data in 1999.

While the graduate jobs market has grown by 9% in the last year, it has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels and 2021 graduates have been competing for positions against last year’s cohort, who graduated in the toughest jobs market since the last recession.

The most popular roles were in retail, FMCG and tourism, which received 182 applications per vacancy. Competition for jobs in health and pharmaceuticals was also high with 155 people applying for a job and 118 graduates applied for a financial and professional services role. The charity and public sector was the least competitive with 39 applications per vacancy.

The ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2021 also highlighted the importance of work experience in getting a graduate job with 60% of former interns and placement students hired into graduate roles this year.

While work experience has been one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic – the number of opportunities fell by around a third in 2020 – online provision has stimulated growth this year with internships increasing by 23% and work placements by 7%. Eighty-three students applied for each internship on average (2% increase on 2020) while 82 people applied for each work placement (17% drop).

Roles for school leavers such as apprenticeships have been less competitive than graduate positions with companies receiving an average of 67 applications per vacancy. School leaver hiring didn’t drop during the pandemic and has continued to grow, increasing by 14% in 2021.

Employers are predicting that growth across all areas will continue, with graduate jobs and internships expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels over the next year.

Stephen Isherwood, CEO of ISE said: “This highlights the genuine struggle for young people to find work during the pandemic. There are more people looking for the security of a graduate programme, and this year’s cohort is competing with unemployed graduates from last year and those who did a masters degree. Despite employers wanting more young people than last year, there just aren’t enough roles and we’re not yet back to 2019 levels.

“Students shouldn’t spray and pray. They are not the people who get the jobs, it’s better to target and tailor, and make the right application to the right employer. University careers teams are there to help with this process and will be able to offer the best advice.

“Competition for jobs has been fierce but, assuming the economy continues to recover, things should get easier over the next year when we expect a return to pre-pandemic hiring.”

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