Britain’s largest graduate employers plan to expand their recruitment of university leavers this year in a further sign of confidence in the economy.
The top 100 graduate recruiters are seeking to hire 20,985 to their management programmes, 868 (4.3 per cent) more than last year.
It will be the fifth consecutive year that leading employers have expanded their graduate programmes and is good news for students, who have become increasingly focused on their career prospects since university tuition fees trebled to £9,000 a year in 2012. The graduate recruitment market contracted sharply after the financial crisis in 2008, falling by 6.7 per cent, and dipped again in 2012 but has increased steadily since.
This year’s projected rise is the largest for four years and suggests that uncertainly over Brexit has not hit confidence.
Public sector employers; high street and online retailers; and engineering and industrial companies are among those preparing to hire more graduates in the coming year. Six organisations plan to increase their graduate programmes by more than 100 recruits.
The figures are based on a survey of the 100 best-known graduate recruiters by High Fliers Research, which found that a minority of employers are also increasing their starting salaries for graduates, although the average figure remains at £30,000 a year.
Law firms, who pay the second highest starting salaries to new graduates, are increasing their pay by an average of £1,000 a year, to £43,000.
Retailers are accompanying their expansion with higher pay, raising average starting salaries by £1,000 to £30,000, although Aldi, one of the most generous, plans to pay its trainee area managers £42,000 a year.
Oil and gas companies are also increasing their new graduates’ pay by £1,000 to an average of £38,000, although this sector is much smaller with only 160 graduate vacancies compared with thousands that are offered by accountancy and professional services firms.
Employers in the engineering and industrial sector, where pay tends to be significantly lower, are raising their starting salary by £500 to an average of £26,500.
The graduate recruitment market has been complicated in the past two years by students turning down jobs at the last minute to accept a better paid or more attractive offer. It has prompted calls among employers to revive a student code whereby applicants must withdraw other job applications once they have accepted an offer.
Some employers say they may be forced to scale back their investment in graduate training programmes if the trend continues, although there has been so sign of this yet.
The survey found that last year 800 positions on graduate programmes were left unfilled after applicants reneged on offers late in the process despite having previously accepted them. Public sector employers and accounting and professional services firms were hit the hardest.
The practice is also a symptom, however, of a trend among employers to make job offers earlier, owing to competition among recruiters to hire the best candidates. This includes offering positions to students who undertake internships in the summer vacation of their second year at university.