Graduate unemployment – the long view

No-one’s going to kid you that it’s an easy job market out there, but just how hard is it now? I prefer evidence to conjecture, so here are some facts.

My first port of call for labour market info is always Dr. Charlie Ball, whom some of you met at Pathways (he’s the expert in graduate labour market statistics and aquilegias). He’s also Deputy Director of Research at HECSU and  loves a good statistic. He’s been tracking graduate unemployment going back to 1975 and has come up with this enlightening graph (taken from his recent blog post):

Stats 1975 - 2012 ug only_18605_image001

So, undergraduate unemployment is high compared to the heady pre-Lehman Brothers days of 2007, and it looks like it’s a stuck on a plateau.

However, contrary to some of the press reports, it’s not the worst it’s ever been. To reassure you that it is possible to carve out a decent career even if you graduate in a time of sky-high unemployment, I’ll use

  • Exhibit A: Dr Charlie Ball – graduated in the early nineties, now afore-mentioned UK graduate labour market guru, and
  • Exhibit B: Yours truly! Yes, I was there in 1981, in a cap and gown and a very unfortunate perm – and I still found a good graduate job.

This is probably why neither of us gets over-excited by the scare stories of “graduates who will never get a job”. We’ve lived through tough times and know that you may have to be resourceful and look at a range of alternatives, but you shouldn’t assume that you’re set for a life-time of unemployment or boring, low-paid work.

Of course, those stats just relate to undergraduates. Here’s how the postgrads fare, compared to the undergrads:

unemployment by level


  1. “Doctorate” and “First degree” are self-explanatory. “Other postgraduate” is a term used by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency). This does not include PGCE or doctoral researchers, so it is predominantly made up of masters – or the closest approximation I can get!
  2. It only looks at those who have been studying full-time (so excludes all those part-time masters who are already working; lots of people in good full-time jobs do a masters part-time, which would really distort the destination data).
  3. The way they measure this destination data changed last year, so it’s not strictly accurate to compare this year with previous years – but I reckon the unemployment rate for each year is still a reasonable approximation. (Charlie will no doubt tell me if I’ve got this wrong.)

You can see the same plateauing effect, but doctoral researchers have plateaued at a much lower unemployment rate than undergrads or masters.

Unemployment for masters, though, is as high, if not a bit higher than, unemployment for undergrads. This reinforces the message I constantly give – that you can’t assume that your masters automatically gives you the edge over a good undergraduate candidate. It may also reflect the job hunting behaviour of many masters, which is often out of sync with when lots of employers want to recruit.

Masters – what can you do about this?

  1. Don’t leave your job hunting until close to when you finish your degree (mainly October to Christmas). Lots of employers are advertising entry-level jobs right now, when they know a lot of new undergrads will be available. Once it gets to autumn, large employers start recruiting for their management/graduate programmes – but then they don’t want you to start for another year! Individual vacancies will be advertised all year round, but if you don’t have much work experience, you don’t want to miss out on this large summer round of entry-level positions.
    Obviously, you can’t start immediately – but many undergrads will also be trying to negotiate to start a new job after the summer (particularly with the kind of summer we’re having this year). Don’t assume that you will be excluded if you can’t start before early autumn.
  2. If you want any individual help with your career, or feedback on your CV or applications, come and see us over the summer. It’s much quieter now, and if you leave it until you’re about to finish your masters, you will be competing with all the new final year undergrads at our busiest time of year. This will mean you will have to wait longer, and may only be offered a 15 minute appointment rather than the 30 minute appointments on offer at the moment.
  3. Don’t panic! Last year, 86% of “other postgraduates” were in work and/or study six months after graduating (4% were doing something else, which includes those who were already retired, or were having children, or were ill, for example).
    The likelihood is that you are going to get a job or that PhD you’re hankering after- as long as you do something about it, sooner rather than later.

Jobs for postgraduates

If you are looking for a job to start in the next few months, search the vacancies on CareersLink to access jobs where employers are specifically targeting University of Manchester students.

There are currently 720 ads for graduate level full-time jobs or internships (paid) on CareersLink – more than twice the number on the main national graduate jobs sites like Milkround, Target or Prospects.

These include jobs where postgrads are specifically mentioned, including a mathematical modeller (Vacancy ID 20340), jobs in a number of technical and business consultancies (ID 22455, 22337, 22468, 22003), financial analyst posts requiring a range of languages (ID 22111 – search on employer to see other language requirements), healthcare analyst (ID 21571), geologist roles in Crawley or China (ID 18448, 21423), translation role (ID 22271), legal affairs internship in Germany (ID 22456) and more.

One response to “Graduate unemployment – the long view”

  1. Hi Elizabeth

    I tried to make unemployment rates comparable – I think methodologies have kept sufficiently static for this to be valid.

    There are very interesting things going on with Masters – I’ll be looking into it in more detail over the summer and doing something at Biennial.

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