Graduate employment: Survey shows over two-thirds of students remain confident

Hepi research on graduate employment shows “the optimism of youth” – but also reveals increased anxiety

New research from The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has revealed students’ feelings about graduate employment in the wake of coronavirus.

Open for business? Students’ views on entering the labour market (Policy Note 22) was carried out by polling company YouthSight for Hepi and JobTeaser.

It surveyed 1,039 full-time UK undergraduate students between 27 March and 1 April.

The results

  • 79% of graduates said they feel confident of getting a graduate-level job
  • 28% cite anxiety as their number one feeling towards entering the labour market. This comes before confidence (23%), uncertainty (16%) and feeling overwhelmed (16%)
  • When it came to positive emotions, just 14% selected excitement as their primary feeling, and only 3% said they felt relaxed
  • 71% say their feelings have not changed since the coronavirus crisis – compared to around one-third (29%) who say they have
  • Students define employability as being related to their skills: either gaining skills relevant to a specific role (68%) or more generally gaining skills for future employment (67%). 61% believe work experience is also important
  • The majority of students – 49% – say doing something they are interested in is the most important factor when it comes to a successful career. 48% say it’s being happy and fulfilled, 47% cite having stability, and 41% rate having a high salary (41%) most highly
  • Almost two-thirds of undergraduates (64%) have a specific career in mind for when they graduate, compared to 18% who do not and 17% who are unsure
  • 72% intend to go into a career directly related to their degree subject
  • Most students (35%) intend to spend one to two years in their first role. Around a quarter (24%) intend to spend over three years, compared to 19% who intend to spend two to three years, 18% who will spend six months to a year and 3% who intend to spend less than six months

Graduate employment and “the optimism of youth”

“Universities need to provide as much support as they can for students who are entering the labour market in such uncertain times and employers need to be mindful of these results in their hiring processes,” said Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s director of policy and advocacy.

“The polling also shows a number of misconceptions that students have about the labour market.

“Most expect to go into a career directly related to their degree subject, while employers tend to see subject of study as less important than the skills they have gained. Students expect to only spend a short time in their first graduate job, when research shows that many stay in their first role for longer than expected.

“University careers guidance should seek to tackle these misconceptions, so students are better informed about their future careers.’

Students graduating this year could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking they have lived against a backdrop of uncertain and threatening events

In the report’s foreword, Jonathan Black, director of Oxford University Careers Service, links the resilience of today’s undergraduates with the global upheaval they have witnessed throughout their lives:

“Students graduating this year could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking they have lived against a backdrop of uncertain and threatening events: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars, the 2008 financial crisis, the turmoil and division of Brexit, and throughout the period, an increasingly obvious climate crisis.

“Now, along comes a global pandemic that is beginning to make the previous environment look almost benign and limited.

‘This HEPI report confirms that students’ familiarity with uncertainty is measurable by the fact that the majority of respondents say their perceptions haven’t changed solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They remain generally positive about their future – perhaps the optimism of youth who either don’t know or don’t believe the predictions or maybe they see opportunities in the changes to come.”


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