Jobs Blow For Graduates As Companies Refuse To Hire

(Guardian) – RECENT GRADUATES were dealt another blow today as a poll revealed that nearly 90% of small and medium-size businesses will not be hiring them this year.

A survey of 502 companies by consultants the Centre for Enterprise found that 88% were not planning to recruit graduates during the recession. Even more – 89% – have not recruited a recent graduate in the last year.

The results inflict another wound on recent graduates who have fared the worst in the recession. Small and medium size businesses account for 99% of all companies in the UK and three-fifths of private sector employment. They typically employ between two and 249 staff.

The survey also revealed that some firms did not understand the differences between A-levels and degrees. Thousands of graduates may be being overlooked, the poll showed, as almost a third – 29% – of businesses think A-levels are graduate-level qualifications, while 18% think GCSEs are equivalent to a degree.

Data published by the Liberal Democrats last month showed that unemployment is rising fastest among 18- to 24-year-olds who have degrees. In the three months to September, one in five unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds had a degree – up from one in six three years ago.

This has prompted ministers to launch initiatives to provide jobs for these graduates. These have included funds to support 10,000 internships in small businesses and a scheme that matches graduates with employers looking for interns — the Graduate Talent Pool.

But almost a third – 32% – of the firms surveyed that said they were not hiring graduates told the pollsters that nothing would make them recruit a graduate in the next year.

Almost half – 48% – said they had no job vacancies at any level and 39% said they did not need graduate-level skills in their businesses. Twenty-nine per cent said they would need to change their business strategy to require a recent graduate, and 11% said they wanted more experienced employees than recent graduates.

However, 48% said they would consider recruiting graduates if the government offered them a subsidy to do so.

Most of the businesses in the poll said they selected employees according to the skills and experience they had, rather than their degree classification and subject. Thirty-eight per cent of the firms said they did not set out to recruit graduates, but had done so in the past because they were stronger candidates than non-graduates.

James Kewin, joint managing director of the Centre for Enterprise, said: “There is not a clear or shared understanding of the term graduate among small and medium size businesses. There is a clear need to rationalise the plethora of qualification frameworks, levels and agencies that currently litter the education and skills landscape and to develop an easily understandable summary of what is and what isn’t a graduate-level qualification.”

He said efforts to boost the proportion of graduates in jobs could have only a marginal impact. “Most small and medium size businesses that do not recruit reported that lack of demand, rather than inadequate and unsuitable supply, was their primary reason for not recruiting,” he said. “This suggests that the trend for increasing the employability skills of graduates will, in isolation, have only a marginal impact. The same is true of initiatives aimed at promoting, subsidising or improving access to graduate recruits. While they may lead to a short-term reduction in graduate unemployment, they do not address the fundamental barrier – lack of business need – that prevents most small and medium size businesses from recruiting.”

Peter McAleer, transport manager at Prolink, a haulage company that employs 26 people, said he had not hired a recent graduate for at least two years. He said: “The cost of employing them is too much. I don’t think they give added value. They haven’t got the experience. Working life doesn’t revolve around the knowledge in a textbook.”

In July, the Association of Graduate Recruiters found that graduate vacancies had fallen by a quarter and that, on average, 48 applicants were competing for each job. In November, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit reported that graduate unemployment had risen by 44% in the last year and was at record levels.

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