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Graduate hiring slows

"If you aren’t hiring junior talent, remember that your competition will be," warned Generation UK and Ireland's CEO - © deagreez/Adobe Stock

More than half (57%) of UK businesses are hiring fewer graduates this year, with 39% blaming the situation on tighter hiring budgets, according to a poll commissioned by the recruitment consultancy Robert Walters.

Digging into the reasons why employers might be holding back from hiring graduates in 2024, Michael Houlihan, CEO of economic mobility charity Generation UK and Ireland, cited the wider economic climate.

Speaking to HR magazine, Houlihan said: “When times are good, sustained economic growth is the major driver of the private sector and the pursuit for experienced talent is fierce.

“In more challenging times – like we find ourselves in today – the opposite is true, with companies unwilling and often unable to take gambles on hiring potential talent, particularly at the entry level.

“The cyclical nature of these trends means that few companies are ever in a position where they are proactively hiring for the future at a pace they would choose to.”

Read more: Top tips for setting up a graduate scheme

Novo Constare, CEO of the digital recruitment firm Indeed Flex, agreed that the current recruitment environment is challenging, referencing the cost of living crisis as a driver.

Constare told HR magazine: “The cost-of-living crisis has made recruitment challenging for employers. With tighter budgets and stretched resources, the hiring process has become lengthier. This leads to a vicious cycle of fewer candidates and more time and resources needed to find suitable hires.”

How can HR reverse the downward graduate hiring trend? Perhaps the key is to focus on the many benefits of hiring graduates, Houlihan suggested.

“There are clear benefits of hiring at the junior level, particularly in the pursuit of the perfect ‘pyramid structure’ that companies rightly hark after,” said Houlihan. “Top-heavy, or ‘hour-glass'-shaped organisations [those with a high proportion of management staff] lead to an unnecessarily heavy burden being placed on more junior shoulders.

“With the speed that technology is advancing, entry-level talent can very quickly advance through the ranks, becoming highly valuable to firms within a short number of years. A well-structured company will ensure a wealth of junior talent is kept within the business.

“Ultimately, if you aren’t hiring junior talent, remember that your competition will be.”

Robert Walters surveyed 1,000 UK employers between April and May 2024.