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Association of Graduate Recruiters survey more optimistic about job opportunities than previous predictions

The graduate job cuts predicted in 2009 have failed to materialise, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

According to the AGR's latest findings, vacancies in 2009 fell by 8.9% rather than the 24.9% predicted. These figures compare favourably with employment statistics overall and suggest graduate recruitment is emerging from the recession relatively unscathed.

The average graduate salary, however, is predicted to remain at £25,000 for the second consecutive year - an unprecedented development in the 20-year history of the AGR survey. This freeze represents a double hit for graduates of 2009 and 2010 who are the first to pay top-up tuition fees for all three years of their degree.

Further educational development was not considered as good an option by employers: a clear indication that only those with serious academic aspirations should consider post-graduate study and that it should not be treated as a fall-back position when the job search gets tough.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR, said: "Today's survey suggests that the graduate employment market is starting to normalise and to begin the process of recovery. A small decrease following a large one the year before is consistent with previous trends and, by 2011, we could be seeing vacancy increases for the first time since 2008. It is heartening to see employers remain steadfast in their commitment to graduates.

"Though vacancy figures are starting to turn the corner, the picture for salaries is less positive from the graduate's perspective. This could not have come at a worse time for the current crop of graduates who are the first to enter the workplace with the daunting task of paying off three years of tuition fees ahead of them. Those with jobs in banking, finance and law will be somewhat cushioned from the impact but graduates starting out in the third and public sectors will really feel the pinch this year. If the Browne Review recommends lifting the cap off tuition fees the need to secure a good graduate starting salary will become even more vital in future years."  

This year, employers are predicting a 1.6% decrease vacancies compared with cuts of 8.9% in 2009. This mirrors a pattern seen in 2002 and 2003 when vacancies declined first by 6.5% and then 3.4% in response to the dot.com crash. More than half of organisations (51%) expect to have more vacancies this year than last year and only 31% are reporting a decrease compared with 46% last year.

The sectors that have traditionally been the biggest recruiters of graduates are feeling optimistic about 2010. Banking and financial services is predicted to see a 24.5% increase and investment banks and fund managers are set for a 16.2% rise. But the largest growth this year is expected in oil companies (49.7%) and consulting (47.2%).  These increases are attributed to anticipated and actual business growth and, pleasingly, more focus on graduate recruitment.

Meanwhile the third sector and transport are expecting cuts of 49.2% and 13.5% respectively. In the public sector, graduate vacancies are expected to drop by 7.5% this year.

Accountancy continues to provide the biggest share of graduate jobs as in previous years with 18.2% of the total graduate vacancies in 2009. However, banking and financial services have slipped down the table and last year provided just 7.9% of vacancies - an obvious knock-on effect of the banking crisis. Oil companies, shown as a standalone sector for the first time ever in the AGR survey, accounted last year for a massive 15.1% of all graduate jobs and are now the second-highest recruiter of graduates.

One third of employers plan to offer a premium for a post-graduate degree in 2010 - an increase of 11.7% compared with last year. This suggests that the war for talent has not abated despite the downturn. A PhD attracts the highest financial premium followed by such postgraduate qualifications as an MA or MSc.