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Onrec Online Recruitment Magazine: Graduate Recruitment: How healthy is graduate recruitment this year?

Article by Lauren Mackelden, Features Editor, Onrec Magazine

Article by Lauren Mackelden, Features Editor, Onrec Magazine

After some truly grim years, there are some glimmers of sunshine for graduates; a slight increase in graduate hiring , plus the use of technology and social media to make the recruitment of quality candidates less expensive and time consuming for everyone, both graduates and recruiters.

There really is some optimistic news out there, though you do have to look carefully; for example, an annual survey from High Fliers Research says the UK’s leading employers are expecting to increase their graduate recruitment by 6.4% this year, and new research from The Association for Graduate Recruiters (AGR) showed that starting salaries for graduates are set to rise by 6% to £26,500, comments Mary Clarke, CEO at Cognisco. However, Clarke cautions that competition for jobs is rife, saying: "Many graduate employers are faced with a high volume of applications - the average number of applications per graduate job is around 100. Public sectors cuts have also affected graduate prospects with contraction in areas such as the armed forces." Clarke notes that the latest banking scandal, coupled with the ongoing Eurozone crisis, also means that Britain is in unchartered territory – she believes UK businesses face great uncertainty at present and this will impact job opportunities.

Ben Jackson, Commercial Director at GradWeb thinks the market for graduate employment is not as bad as many would have us believe. Jackson feels this perception has been driven by application-to-hire statistics quoted by the likes of the AGR and High Fliers, which have been gleefully misinterpreted to hint that there are 80 graduates to a single job, rather than 80 applications per vacancy from candidates making multiple applications. He declares: "Whilst the dark days of 2009, where campaigns were cancelled or shrunk almost across the board, are still fresh in the memory, our clients are now recruiting as many or more graduates than they were back in pre-recession days."

At True North Human Capital, their CEO Norman Burden, feels that sadly, signs of recovery are more wishful thinking than anything else, but the one exception is the technology sector, where demand is outstripping supply. However, he feels that the sense of entitlement which was prevalent amongst Generation Y is thankfully becoming a problem of the past: "The current crop of graduates are more realistic, harder working and more prepared to compromise on the ideal situation in order to get good, on the job, experience."

The specialist skills of graduates are definitely determining their future. Mike Hill, chief executive at Graduate Prospects announces “Broadly speaking, engineering looks like it is finally about to be on the up, unless you’re hoping to get a job in construction, which continues to suffer. And while the finance sector fails to recruit quite so strongly, jobs in the oil and gas industry are widespread." He expects out of this year's cohort to see only between eight and nine per cent still unemployed by Christmas. Hill believes the impact of the public sector cuts on graduate jobs has been gradual, with the first and biggest to be hit were those in white collar work in local government offices. "Subsequently the cuts hit graduates working in those positions outside London particularly hard. Unfortunately the private sector isn’t quite growing quickly enough to meet the fallout from the public sector. The good news is that most of the cutbacks have been made and therefore the main brunt on graduate jobs has already happened.”

Technology will help graduates

Walter Hueber, CEO at Cammio points out that not everything is more difficult for the new graduate, as applying for jobs is so different for this generation. "Innovations in technology via social media and online video interview offerings mean that it’s becoming easier for graduates looking for top jobs to apply over the web. In previous years, hard pressed graduates would be expected to fork out hundreds of pounds for travel and accommodation to take part in multiple interviews at different locations across the country. With recruiters and businesses investing more in online interview technologies, graduates are able to complete live interviews from any location. This process not only saves them money and travel time, it also enables the graduate to apply to many more companies to increase their chances of landing a job.” Hueber advises gaining experience:

“The economy is still sluggish, but this means more internship opportunities for graduates. Grads can build up actual work experience and prove they are a viable hiring option. Today you need both technical skills and experience to land a job. Most recent grads have technical aptitude, but lack experience – so it’s worth it to take a low paying internship that will turn technology aptitude into relevant experience."

Social media is being called on by more and more graduates as an aid in their job hunt according to Mike Barnard, product manager at milkround. com. For example, in milkround's survey of students and graduates, nearly half (45%) of those surveyed said they had a LinkedIn profile. They also expect career information from recruiters, as nearly three quarters of those who follow a company on Facebook said they want hints and tips. This use of facebook by graduates is noted by Ted Elliott, CEO and Founder of Jobscience. He says "there seems to be a generational difference between the 30+ year old generation which sees LinkedIn as their professional social network, and the 20-30 year old generation that considers Facebook to be their entire life. Companies are starting to realize that Facebook is the place to recruit recent grads and young talent, as our study revealed that 36% of U.S. corporations plan to use Facebook more for recruiting this year than last." Elliott says they are making social recruiting easier for employers and young professionals with a new Jobscience Facebook Job Board app. He claims this social recruiting app enables corporations, staffing agencies and executive search firms to post and manage job openings on their Facebook business page from within Jobscience’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Employers don’t have to manage two separate job boards – one on their website and another on their Facebook page. Elliott comments: "Using social networks to find candidates for current job openings is becoming a common strategy for recruiters. But the real value of social recruiting is when companies continually engage with people through social networking - so when an appropriate job opens up - the potential candidate is familiar with the company and has a propensity to want to work there. We call this ‘social sourcing’ and building pipelines of talent.”

Richard Nott, Website Director of CWJobs says the value of investing in grass roots talent is a message with huge support from the Government. He reports that firms such as Google have made great strides in this respect with the company announcing plans earlier this year of a partnership with over 20 agencies to create more opportunities for grads. Nott is convinced programmes such as these are exactly what is needed to ensure the UK has the talent to rival competing worldwide markets.

Regarding the current trend amongst students to decide against university, Nott considers it will be interesting to see whether the tuition fee hike has a sustained impact on the market – or whether a ‘knee jerk’ reaction means we see reduced numbers for the first few years of graduates. As he says: "While graduate schemes by their very definition require degree level candidates – if businesses do start to see a reduction in candidates, it could be worth considering other criteria for accessing suitability. Arguably, if a candidate can demonstrate their ability and skills in a more practical way, such as providing links in their CV to supporting materials such as projects they’ve worked on, then perhaps having the degree isn’t as crucial."

Another suggestion that could change traditional graduate recruitment is to give more consideration to the idea of a second phase of recruitment in the summer months, post exams. Either this or to spread the graduate recruiting period throughout the year as opposed to condensing it into a short period of time. This allows recruiters to choose from a wider, more diverse range of students in order to acquire the highest quality of graduate possible. This idea has been put forward by Ross Whistler, Marketing Executive at graduate-jobs.com where they have noticed the increase in the quality of graduates applying in the summer months.

Ted Elliott from Jobscience summarises how he perceives what lies ahead for graduates: "New technologies will enable people to validate their social network identities and control access to their accounts. This development will help recruiters and employers avoid cases of mistaken identity and eliminate liabilities by obtaining permission to access accounts. You will see a trend toward ‘personal branding,’ where job seekers leverage their social network relationships to collect and publicly showcase online ratings and validation of their skills and performance. Recruiters will no longer solely rely on references from candidates – they’ll have immediate access to a multitude of ratings for candidates. This new technology will empower workers to create their own ‘personal employment brand’ that will grow over time. Top graduates want to work for a ‘hot’ company, so having an exciting company brand is going to be vital. Young candidates are using social media to gather information about companies. So if companies want to continue to attract talent, they need to pay attention to their employment brand and invest in things like: monitoring how their brand is perceived on social networks, facilitating a social dialogue and giving compelling reasons for people to work at their company.”

So despite the poor economic outlook, there are still many ways for the graduate recruitment scene to develop and provide talent for future growth. 

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