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AGR survey: Graduate retention declining - one in six drop out of graduate programmes

Retaining graduates is becoming increasingly difficult with employers typically losing 16% of their intake in the first two years, which is an increase on the 9% reported last year.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) Development Survey 20171 showed that 20% of graduates leave by the first year after completing a graduate development programme, increasing to 46% after five years of employment.  

Graduate employers typically run two-year development programmes and when comparing figures from the AGR Development Survey 2016, 17% of graduates had left by the first year after a development programme had ended, increasing to 39% after five years.

Graduate programmes in the legal, utility, construction, engineering and industrial sectors all experienced a year-on-year drop in retention. Financial services reported the only increase in retention this year (1%)2.

This trend of lower retention appears to be new and consistent across different sectors, which suggests a systemic change in graduate behaviour. AGR data shows graduate retention remained relatively stable from 2011 until 2014 when it has kept declining3.

Graduates who leave in the first three years of employment have a variety of motives. While nearly a quarter (24%) leave for a career change, other reasons reflect their ambitious nature with 19% moving on for better pay and 14% are dissatisfied with their career progression.  Other reasons for graduates leaving are more practical with 7% moving location and 6% are compelled to leave due to redundancy or lack of permanent positions.

For graduates that stay, the median salary increases by a quarter, three years after joining an organisation. The median starting salary for a graduate training scheme is £27,500. They also progress quickly, with an average of 39% in manager positions after five years.

Employers invest significantly in their graduate talent. Typically hiring graduates onto permanent contracts and two-year development programmes, and spending a median
of £3,015 to develop each graduate. The industry invests more than £69 million on graduate development annually.

To help protect their investment, many companies develop their programmes in response to graduate feedback and invest in interns as a means of helping ensure cultural fit. Last year an AGR survey reported that graduates who were formerly interns stayed with a company six months longer than those who weren’t.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the AGR said: “Over the last ten years retention rates have remained relatively stable, so contrary to popular belief not all millennials are job-hoppers. Graduate expectations are changing and they are leaving for a myriad of reasons. Employers will need to monitor and respond to this trend to ensure they benefit from their investment.”


1 AGR Development Survey 2017: This is the second development survey undertaken by the AGR. 174 AGR members took part in the online survey in January 2017, representing 18,227 graduates and 2.8 million staff in the UK. The industry invests more than £69 million on training programmes. The survey showed that by the end of 2016 employers had lost 16% of their graduates who had joined in 2014 and went through a two-year development programme.

Source: 119 employers with 9,727 graduates hires

2 AGR Development Survey 2016 & 2017: Retention by sector

Source: 66 employers with 5,893 hires and who answered the survey in both years

3 AGR Annual Surveys