Recent research by HEFCE on graduate level jobs should ring a peal of alarm bells for universities and society in general. Large gaps exist between certain socio-demographic and ethnic groups in terms of getting into a graduate level job. The broad headline is stark: 78% of graduates are employed in graduate-level roles 40 months after graduate. HEFCE pinpoint the importance of this finding: “medium-term career outcomes are critical for the future success of the graduates. Careers are built on early jobs and a low-paying first job can affect graduates’ earnings for the remainder of their working lives.”

But before we jump to the conclusions of some and announce that there are simply too many graduates in the labour market, let’s look at HEFCE’s additional, and worrying, insight around graduate outcomes based on different circumstances and characteristics.

65% of Graduates of White ethnicity were in graduate level jobs 6 months after graduation, whereas only 65% of Caribbean ethnic background were in graduate level jobs 40 months after graduation. Similar patterns are observed for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, African, and Other black backgrounds.

This evidence ties up with Joseph Rowntree Foundation research that observes “While gaps in educational attainment have narrowed considerably and in some cases reversed, this has not been matched by a similar shift in employment outcomes”. Employment outcomes are poor – particularly for Black African and Bangladeshi ethnic groups – across the board: “the UK unemployment rate for ethnic minority young people (aged 16–24) was 28.6 per cent in 2014, compared with 15.5 per cent for White young people – similar to the gap in 2009 (a 29.8 per cent unemployment rate for ethnic minority young people versus 18.1 per cent for White young people). In 2014 unemployment rates were particularly high for young Black people (36 per cent) and young Pakistani/Bangladeshi people (31.4 per cent) (DWP, 2015).” Comparison of professional employment rates by POLAR3 quintile show a pattern of higher levels of socio economic disadvantage associated with lower graduate employment rates. Just 60% of graduates from the most deprived quintile were in graduate level employment after 6 months, compared with 67% for the least disadvantaged. After 40 months, the gaps remain markedly the same.

HEFCE’s blog on this topic explores these and other statistics, and features some excellent interactive graphs.

So who is best placed to improve employment outcomes for socio-economic disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups across the board? JRF suggest that local authorities are particularly well placed, but there is a strong argument for a wider range of powerful stakeholders to work together: universities, local authorities, employers and employers’ organisations.

What does research tell us about the experience of transition to the labour market for disadvantaged and marginalised groups? What interventions and projects have demonstrated a significant impact on improving labour market outcomes for these groups? How does a new focus on widening participation to postgraduate study affect employability outcomes? What will be the effect of a renewed government focus on apprenticeships and vocation skills on graduate level jobs?

If you are working in this area, you might like to know that the Open University’s Widening Participation Conference, 27-28 April 2016 has a dedicated theme on widening participation and employability. A call for research and practice papers and posters provides further detail. The deadline for this call is the 27th November 2015.

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