Graduating during a recession

Alice Baghdjian - News Editor 22 June 2009

TCS investigates the effects of the economic crisis on Cambridge graduates

In the aftermath of May Week, Cambridge finalists will be facing what has been described as the worst graduate recruitment market in a decade. With redundancies and pay freezes hitting the headlines, this year’s graduates may face added challenges in securing a job.

The economic crisis has noticeably affected the supply side of the employment market, with a number of companies, from law firms, to holiday tour companies, reducing intakes through to 2010.

The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers are said to have cut recruitment targets by 17% over 2009, with half of these expecting to maintain these targets into 2010. The banking and property sectors have experienced the most severe decline in new recruitment, whilst vacancies in the media are down 7% this year.

“Cambridge is not immune to the global recession”: reads the 2009 Careers Service Annual Report. Cambridge has traditionally exhibited a consistently high rate of graduates finding employment within the first six months of their entering the labour market. Employment rates for Cambridge graduates fared well during the previous economic downturn, a Career’s service report shows, with fewer than 4% of graduates left unemployed six months after graduating.

Yet even those who have already found offers of employment can end up disappointed. Since November, a number of Cambridge graduates have been losing jobs, according to the Careers Service. In February, previously held offers of employment for Cambridge students graduating in 2009 were being deferred for a year or withdrawn completely, particularly in the banking sector, some sources said.

A High Fliers survey showed that 26% of Cambridge respondents were already sorted for employment after graduation, the highest percentage in the UK. However, around 100 to 150 of these students later reported that their offers had been withdrawn.

“This situation is problematic as it creates a ‘log jam’ in the recruitment market,” explains Gordon Chesterman, Director of Cambridge Careers Service. Graduates from previous years remain in the recruitment market, which means more competition for the next year’s cohort of graduates to find jobs. However, Mr Chesterman remains optimistic about the prospects for graduates of the university during this economic downturn, and the Careers Service do not predict any major changes in the employment rates for this year. “We expect the figures to stay roughly the same in 2009,” says Mr Chesterman. “Finalists are expected to find work, though this year the difference may be that it is not their first choice of job.”

The jobs market has also seen a drop in the extent to which employers are actively seeking graduates themselves through targeting universities. The number of universities being targeted has decreased, though for many employers Cambridge is still one of these.

Despite this, the Careers Service has noted that targeting strategies have not, as yet, led to any new offers of employment in the hardest hit areas of the job market. “Employers are still targeting Cambridge although not as many as in good economic times,” Mr Chesterman says. “We have had to change our approach to looking for vacancies. Now we have to call employers ourselves.”

Students’ expectations of entry into the job market have also changed to some extent. Many new graduates are avoiding the worst hit sectors of the recruitment market. Applications for work in the public sector, traditionally thought to offer more job security, have risen. Some are even choosing to prolong study over entering employment. The Board of Graduate Studies at Cambridge has seen a 13% increase in the number of applications this year, while the number of students attending the Banking and Finance Event and the Property Event were down this year by 18% and 45% respectively.

“We are pleased to see that students themselves are very aware of the situation in certain sectors, and are shying away from these sorts of jobs, for example in banking or property, and have started to question the value of a job in that sector,” Mr Chesterman said. Cambridge University is currently investing in additional resources to help those finalists with concerns over securing employment in the coming year, as the Career’s Service continues to adapt to the demands of the current recruitment market and the needs of future graduates.

Alice Baghdjian – News Editor