Applicants still outnumber graduate positions despite growth in vacancies, research reveals

Recent university leavers face competition from last year’s cohort and are missing out on valuable work experience, experts warn

The number of applicants still outpaces the availability of graduate jobs in the UK despite 10 consecutive weeks of growth in the number of vacancies, research has found.

There were more than 13,000 graduate job vacancies across the UK between 5 and 11 July this year – almost double the number this time last year and more than three times as many compared to June 2020.

Additionally, the average advertised graduate salary has reached £24,402 – a 10 per cent increase on this time last year – according to research from Adzuna.

However, graduate hiring is still 5 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels at the beginning of 2020.

And with Ucas – the UK’s university admissions service – estimating that around 560,000 are students set to graduate this year, Adzuna says there could be at least 40 new graduates for every available position.

Adzuna said searches for graduate roles have more than tripled year on year, in part because many who graduated in 2020 were still searching for employment, while changes to working during the pandemic could mean UK graduates are now competing with remote graduates from overseas.

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, said graduate hiring had been hit hard by the pandemic, and despite the recent economic rebound, the class of 2021 may still have a difficult time finding their first jobs – in part because they will be competing with the previous year’s cohort who also struggled to find work during the pandemic.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“Many employers simply stopped creating entry-level positions and focused hiring instead on senior leaders to help steer them through the pandemic storms, as well as filling urgent open roles,” he said.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics found that one in eight graduates was unemployed in the third quarter of 2020: almost double the average rate for this group over the past three years.

But Hunter said there was reason for optimism. “The economy may stomach one year’s pause on entry-level hiring, but we need to help our grads into employment to support long-term growth.”

Charlie Ball, graduate labour market expert for Prospects at Jisc, added it was important young people didn’t lose their confidence. "The lack of work experience has been a big issue and employers shouldn't expect candidates will come with the same level of experience they had pre-pandemic,” he said.

“It's important to draw out and prompt graduates to talk about what they have been doing - it may not have been an informal internship, but working remotely, communicating virtually and helping out in the community all develop skills that employers want."