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The public sector offers the best job prospects for new graduates, as unemployment soars

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Graduates are turning to the public sector for jobs as graduate unemployment has reached its highest level for 12 years.

According to the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), the rate of graduate unemployment has increased to 7.9% this year - marking a 44% increase from 2008 levels.

In the construction industry graduate unemployment has doubled from 2.9% in 2007 to 8.5% this year. And in civil engineering the percentage of graduates unemployed has increased from 2.4% to 7% since 2007.

The number of 2008 graduates going into business or financial work was down: 7.5% of graduates worked in this area in 2008 compared with 8.7% in 2007. The number of graduates working as financial and investment analysts/advisers or mortgage consultants dropped 19% from just under 2,100 in 2007 to just under 1,700 in 2008.

The IT sector also saw a year-on-year decrease. The number of IT consultants, software professionals and computer programmers fell 18% from 2,980 to just under 2,450, while those working in IT support roles decreased by 15% from 795 to 675.

But the outlook seems more positive in the public sector. Since 2007 the number of graduates working as medical practitioners or pre-registration house officers has increase by 15%, the number of teachers has increased by 14%, the number of sports coaches has increased by 17% and the number of graduates working in social work has risen by 55%.

Mike Hill, chief executive of HECSU, comments: "We're now starting to see the extent of the impact the recession has had on graduate employment. Despite unemployment increasing, for those who have found a job, salary levels are holding up.

"Any signs of economic recovery may not be reflected in the destinations of new graduates until the 2010 graduating cohort. In fact it's likely that unemployment for 2009 graduates may be even higher than that reported here. However, graduates shouldn't feel disheartened. Many organisations continue to recruit and a degree will certainly remain valuable for many years to come."  

But  Simon Page, director of permanent recruitment at Parity Resources, added: " "If graduate unemployment has increased over the last year it is because businesses are still not opening their doors wide enough to new talent.

"With economic green shoots now more than a rumour, businesses should be assessing their skills gaps and engaging talent from outside the confines of their workplace. Because, while it may seem easier to give more work to existing staff, if businesses do not invest in their skills set, the economy will only take longer to drag itself out of the downturn.

"We must create more youth opportunities in the jobs market, training tomorrow's business leaders today. More people on unemployment benefits will only exacerbate the problem further. The economy needs to innovate, not stagnate. Using fresh talent is an excellent way to do so."

The average salary for graduates also increased by 2% since 2007 to £19,677. Graduates working in London reported the highest mean salary at £22,570, but the lowest year-on-year average salary rise (0.4%).

The average salary in Scotland saw the largest year-on-year increase (5.6%).