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Graduate job competition hits record high

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Competition for graduate jobs has reached a record high this year following a coronavirus slump in 2020.

Companies responding to an Institute of Student Employer’s (ISE) survey said they received an average of 91 applications per graduate vacancy, a 17% increase on last year.

The most popular roles were in retail, FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and tourism, which received 182 applications per vacancy.

Competition for jobs in health and pharmaceuticals was also high, with 11 people applying per role.

The charity and public sector was the least competitive with 39 applications per vacancy.


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Stephen Isherwood, CEO of ISE, said despite the graduate jobs market growing by 9%, it has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels. 

He said: “This year’s cohort is competing with unemployed graduates from last year and those who did a masters degree. Despite employers wanting more young people than last year, there just aren’t enough roles and we’re not yet back to 2019 levels.”  

Work experience continued to be important for graduates in the eyes of employers, with 60% of former interns and placement students hired into graduate roles this year.

Although work experience opportunities fell by around a third in 2020, online provision has meant internships increased by 23% and work placements by 7%.

Roles for school leavers such as apprenticeships have been less competitive than graduate positions with companies receiving an average of 67 applications per vacancy.

School leaver hiring did not drop during the pandemic and has continued to grow, increasing by 14% in 2021. 

Employers responding to the survey said they predicted graduate jobs and internships will exceed pre-pandemic levels over the next year.

The survey ran during September 2021 and received 177 responses.

Companies responding represent the UK’s largest employers of school leavers and graduates, hiring 45,312 graduates, school and college leavers, interns or placement students in 2021.