According to the new Graduate Outcomes data, over three quarters of graduates go into “graduate” jobs. While the commentary is that during the last few months, high skilled, graduate jobs (i.e. Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) 1-3) have held up well in terms of recruitment compared with low skilled jobs, that is actually not the case across the board for those graduate occupation categories.
When we look at the labour market indicators like recruitment activity, which Emsi captures through online job posting data, it appears that jobs falling into the Associate professional and technical occupations graduate category — SOC 3 — have not been doing so well. We can see a similar pattern of impact from Covid-19 in terms of hiring activity between those jobs and non-graduate level occupations. Recruitment activity for SOC 3 positions has dropped 37% between February and June this year while the other graduate occupation categories have been impacted far less (SOC 1, -27%; SOC 2, -19%). The only occupation group that has bucked that trend is Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations (SOC 6), with a reduction in postings of only 14%, which is due to increases in hiring of roles within that category such as Care workers and home carers (SOC 6145, +12%) and Ambulance staff (excluding paramedics) (SOC 6142, +6%).
The following chart shows how the higher skilled end of the labour market (SOC 1-3) appears to be holding up well — at least through furlough:
However, when we break out those higher skilled occupations into SOC 1-3, we can see a sharper decline in recruitment activity in that third tier (blue):
That distinction between the Associate professional and technical occupations category and the other graduate categories is important. Over three quarters (77%) of graduates are in graduate jobs 15 months after graduation (HESA, 2020), so from an Education policy perspective one might reasonably assume the focus in responding to Covid-19 should be on those who aren’t on or planning to undertake a degree. However, the new Graduate Outcomes Survey tells us nearly half (47%) of graduates find themselves in the job categories that span the SOC 3 to SOC 9 (‘Elementary Occupations’) classifications, including a quarter (24%) in the SOC 3 “graduate” category:
Understanding what is happening in the graduate-level SOC 3 occupation group is going to be critical for universities to inform their support for their students as they enter the labour market. It is also important for policy makers and institutions looking at student recruitment, as this is looking like the area of the graduate jobs market most likely to under-deliver in terms of employment and ROI.
While recruitment activity is not the same as job numbers, it will be a while before we have all the data from the ONS, so this Big Data is useful as an indicator of where the employment is right now. Examining job postings for Associate professional and technical occupations at the 3-digit SOC level, we can see where those impacts are happening:
Examining some of these groupings at the SOC 3 level, Sales, marketing and related associate professionals (SOC 354) comprises roles such as Estate agents and auctioneers (SOC 3544) and Sales accounts and business development managers (SOC 3545), whilst Public services and other associate professionals (SOC 356) comprises jobs like Careers advisers and vocational guidance experts (SOC 3564) and Health and safety officers (SOC 3567).
Recruitment activity for roles within those particular examples have significant drops in activity since February, with the steepest being in postings for roles like estate agents, which has fallen by 44%:
Nevertheless, taking the static data from this snapshot and creating a strategy based on that alone is problematic. Might it be reasonable to assume that with rising unemployment, there might be a higher demand for careers advisers? (Whether this is the most appropriate role for a freshly graduated 21 year-old without any full-time work experience is another question!). Given the importance of health and safety compliance within the workplace because of the pandemic, could we also expect opportunities for Health and safety officers to rise? Perhaps the housing market will bounce back, but with social distancing, can one estate agent cover the role of several with increased automation, or could the opposite be true with more people needed because of the additional requirements to make house-hunting a safe activity?
All of the above could be true. Different parts of the country could see different trends. The same occupations working in different industries could have widely differing experiences.
Another very significant factor to take into consideration is competition. If we do see the huge increases in unemployment that are expected once furlough schemes end — as has already started to happen — as well as there being less recruitment, i.e. falling demand, we can expect there to be far more competition for jobs, i.e. increasing supply. For any role, what is more attractive: a fresh graduate or a graduate with a few years’ work experience under their belt? It will be a buyer’s market, challenging awarding institutions to supply graduates who can have an edge in their job-relevant skills and competencies over their more experienced competitors, or challenging graduates to enter the workforce in roles and salaries they may not have otherwise contemplated, or indeed to consider postgraduate Education, or something in between as UUK suggest.
What is possible is to capture and track all of this in labour market data at a local level and have a dynamic response strategically in terms of policy, and tactically, such as in Careers Advice & Guidance. Those institutions and programmes whose graduates typically progress to Associate professional and technical occupations (SOC 3) roles, are particularly exposed to the economic impact of Covid-19 in terms of their students’ employability outcomes. The HE sector should be wary of taking too much comfort in the narrative of the impact being on the low-skilled end of the labour market, while that is true, the exposure to graduate level jobs is very real.
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