I’m in my final year of study this year… what does the Graduate Labour Market look like?

Feeling unsure about the world of work after graduation? What is the labor market looking like for graduate recruitment? Explore this feature from our Frequently Asked Questions area on the King’s Careers KEATS pages. 

Image of airplane - click on image to read the blog postMuch continues to be discussed in the media about the state of the wider economy, and the impact upon the graduate labour market. It’s important, insofar as possible to separate those two aspects from one another.

Graduate recruitment in late 2020

Employers learned big lessons from the 2008 financial crash and have largely continues to maintain their plans with adaptations in delivery in the 2020-21 academic year. Many organisations struggled to fill their roles in 2008 (with a third of roles being unfilled) – so it’s important to continue to keep in touch with employers even now. This nuance in early years talent and recruitment is sometimes lost when reviewing the wider economic trends and news of redundancies and cuts currently.

The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) is a membership body of many large UK graduate recruiters – their latest annual survey in November 2020 confirmed a 12% fall in graduate recruitment since March, with this expected to also have impact for roles in summer 2021. Our own conversations with employers have reinforced much of this uncertainty, with many organisations still at November 2020 continuing to make what are quite ‘last-minute’ decisions about their graduate recruitment for next summer – the situation is dynamic and subject to change almost at a daily or weekly basis.

Nevertheless, recruitment continues

You’ll recognise that the numbers of employers interacting directly with universities at events, such as our Focused Festivals, is significantly lower – or narrower – than it may otherwise be. That doesn’t mean organisations are not recruiting, however. It may mean they’re planning to recruit later in the academic year, as they gain confirmation of their numbers and the state of their own market – or they may be participating in the many nationwide virtual events being held in some sectors (e.g. law). The year is very much a ‘mixed economy’ of employers feeling confident enough to engage directly with universities now, and those who do not – but may do later in spring or summer, with opportunities that in other years would have closed in autumn. It remains an incredibly fluid picture, and you’re likely to see new employers joining our events right up to the last-minute as they confirm plans.

Looking at the context

Importantly, graduate recruitment grew at its highest rate in 2019 since the global financial crash (with an expected 9.3% growth nationally) – this means that the cuts now are coming from a high starting point, and should be considered in that vein. In the short-term, we saw many employers curtailing or freezing some of their immediate hiring, though this is now changing as employers begin to have a greater level of confidence in their own business plans. Many organisations initially did, to evaluate their immediate needs and how to ensure financial stability in the coming weeks, anticipating that they will be recruiting once again later after Christmas.

What wasn’t anticipated was a second national ‘lockdown’ in England, so it’s still too early to determine how this will impact plans which were based on assumptions of continued operations in November & December 2020. The overall current expected fall of 12% across the UK is significantly driven by large cuts in just a couple of sectors (construction and the built environment, retail) – so apply your skills of research and analysis when taking headlines at face value.

The good note to end on

What is consistent, is the changes to the recruitment and assessment processes – the use of video interviews, virtual assessment centres and even onboarding new intakes in innovative virtual means. For example, EY onboarded 3,200 students into their summer programmes all online. With this growth in confidence of virtual work, many companies are able to continue offering opportunities to students as they adapt to changing landscapes. For more information on the changes to virtual recruitment see our FAQ article on KEATS.


Read more on this feature and many others on our KEATS pages. Here, we offer dedicated information for students’ career concerns in the Covid-19 context.