Graduate recruitment trends

Although the graduate recruitment landscape has stabilised and offers better opportunities after the volatility of 2020 and 2021, the world of work has still changed fundamentally. Let’s take a look at some of the key trends and areas of opportunity for graduates.

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The most recent gradireland graduate salary and graduate recruitment trends survey was conducted during the Covid–19 pandemic and serves as a handy reference point in terms of where graduate salaries and recruitment trends were impacted. This year’s average graduate salary, calculated from the companies we surveyed, stands at €31,700, continuing the broadly upward trend of recent years Several sectors continue to return salaries that break through the 30k barrier, including; retail, engineering, research & development, logistics and transport, banking, investment and financial services and construction and property. Reassuringly, over half of employers (52%) said that the pandemic has had no effect on their graduate recruitment strategy. 24% said that the effects of Covid-19 had forced them to reduce the number of graduates they recruited. 8% said that the pandemic forced them to cancel their graduate programme, while 2% said that they paused their graduate recruitment efforts. A further 14% cited different effects that the pandemic had. These included bans on visas due to international travel restrictions, delays to starting graduate recruitment campaigns and moving entry exams and courses online.

Demand for technology graduates

The highest average number of graduate recruits hired are those with technology skills. The sustained appeal of technology graduates to employers across multiple sectors indicates that the continued growth in this sector is resilient and that those with these skills are not just suited for careers in the technology sector. All sectors require high end IT skills and students with data and computer science skills are in demand by many industries, from finance to engineering to pharma and many more. In terms of global operations, be they in technology or in other sectors, they require graduates from a wide range of disciplines with a host of skills, from marketing to digital media and HR to research and development. Technology Skills 2022, a government action plan for the tech sector is a stimulus plan designed to drive growth in skills relevant to this sector Before the introduction of this plan it was intended to increase the number of graduates annually, from across the education and training system, to 9,230 by 2022 – an increase of 1,800. The interventions outlined in Technology Skills 2022 will now provide a further 3,200 graduates every year – meaning more than 12,450 people are likely to have graduated with high-level tech skills in 2022.

Uncertainties and challenges

In last year’s gradireland graduate salary and graduate recruitment trends survey, 52% of employers surveyed said they would be maintaining or increasing the levels of graduate recruitment, down from 70% of employers last year. 73% (like last Year’s 74%) said that among the reasons they were increasing their levels of graduate recruitment was due to an actual increase in business. This year’s graduates face mixed fortunes in the jobs market as business and industry count the cost of Covid-19 and deal with ongoing disruption to normal operations. Some companies are pulling graduate recruitment, some will have smaller numbers and delayed starts, although, elsewhere, prospects are bright.

SME’s

“Despite high-profile graduate programmes being particularly attractive to students and graduates, the reality is that most graduates will start their careers in small to medium enterprises. Speaking to the Irish Times in June of this year Mary McCarthy, careers adviser at University College Cork, detailed their research which suggests that about a third of graduates go on to structured graduate programmes. This means, she says, that the majority of graduates will start their career with an entry-level job, most likely in a small or medium sized enterprise (SME). “SMEs most likely won’t have a formalised programme, but there will be training and mentoring and, perhaps, opportunities to get more hands-on experience doing different things. Don’t restrict yourself to a linear career path: it’s important to be open and adaptable and, perhaps, be willing to take a few six- to nine-month contract roles which will help you to gain valuable experience. This may be a launch pad to a higher-level job with more scope and responsibility.”

Sectors of opportunity

In a recent bulletin, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec), an organisation that represents business interests, said that a growth in employment has not been matched by an additional supply in labour, meaning that there are shortages in multiple sectors, as reported by the Irish Times on 21 June this year. “Finance, technology and professional services grew during the pandemic and are continuing to grow now. Retail, hospitality and the transport sector all took a hit during the pandemic but have rebounded to close to pre-pandemic levels. Public sector employment has expanded by 2.7 per cent, with most of that employment in the health sector.

Data from major recruitment firms show that job postings on 20 May 2022, were up 57 per cent from 1 February 2020. Some healthcare areas – particularly pharmacy, veterinary, dental and therapy – have seen growth in job postings. Other sectors, including media and communications, human resources, sports and administration are performing similar to the economy average. Job postings were below average for construction, legal, architecture and chemical engineering. That said, many of these areas have nonetheless been rebounding.

“There has been a continuous increase in demand [for staff] in the ICT sector, as well as in the financial sector,” says Joan McNaboe, who heads up the Skills and Labour Market Research Team at Solas. “There is a lot of growth in professional activities and in a range of other areas including engineering, accounting, architecture, health, transport and construction, particularly for carpenters, plasterers, painters and electricians.

There is also a growth in demand for nurses and healthcare professionals.” McNaboe says that there has been a lot of movement in the ICT sector and that demand is high. She adds, however, that while there are vacancies and labour shortages, companies are facing particular difficulties in hiring highly-skilled staff. “Shortages tend to be for particular skills and there is often a need for experience,” she says. “So the shortages are particularly acute in niche areas – for example, engineers with energy or pharma experience.” Catherine Staunton, head of careers and employability at Dundalk IT, agrees that ICT demand is strong, and adds that science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) graduates are also in demand.

Staunton’s counterpart in UCC, careers consultant Mary McCarthy, says that the financial sector is booming, with high demand for finance, accounting and business information systems. Technical areas like computer software and engineering are also recruiting. “Supply chain is also a big area and one that arts graduates have the skills to move into,” McCarthy says. “Organisations are also keen to get graduates with computer skills, particularly Excel. But it’s worth remembering that about 40 per cent of employers are open to graduates of any discipline.”

Most students will have heard of the “big four” firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY – which provide professional services; many will have been eyeing up a placement or graduate programme in them. Emer McGrath, the head of audit at KPMG, says that there are many opportunities in these firms, including audit, assurance, tax, deal advisory and consulting.

“We see from our own clients that some sectors have a particular dynamism about them. In Ireland, for example, financial services, technology, life sciences and agribusiness are all areas where we’re doing a lot of work – and they are particularly attractive sectors for graduates in Ireland. [This] reflects the fact that the likes of digital innovation, health and food are all obvious priorities both in business and wider society. “In terms of employability, while there can be a cyclical element to certain careers, I’ll admit to a little bias in my own area, but there has never been a better time to become a chartered accountant. There’s such a diversity of opportunities available and we’re seeing more nonlinear career paths for people with opportunities to develop skills in accounting, data analytics, IT and ESG to name just a few.”

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