Research shows that the number of graduate jobs has seen the biggest drop in over ten years – since the financial recession of 2008-2009.

New research by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) have reported that the number of graduate jobs has dropped by 12 per cent in 2020. The majority of employers have stated that this number is set to increase in the following year.

Unsurprisingly, this has been the largest fall in graduate job numbers since the financial recession of 2008-2009 which saw graduate jobs decrease by a quarter (25 per cent).

The effect of COVID-19 on different sectors has been varied. Whilst graduate jobs in retail and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) has dropped by almost half (45 per cent), the charitable and public sector has actually seen an increase in graduate roles – up by 4 per cent.

A significant number of employers reported seeing a skills gap emerging when recruiting for graduate roles. Nearly half of employers (45 per cent) found it challenging to recruit for IT roles in programming and development. Over three in 10 recruiters (35 per cent) stated there was a lack of engineers. Recruiters reported seeing lots of competition for roles whilst also facing a lack of candidates with the necessary skills.

Employers reported a 14 per cent increase in applications for graduate roles and almost a ten per cent rise (9 per cent) in applications for internships and placements.

However, this was also offset by the fact that many employers had to reduce the number of internships and placements offered (29 per cent and 25 per cent respectively) due to the damaging effects of COVID-19 on businesses. ISE reported that this was the largest drop in figures on record.

Conversely, the opportunities for apprenticeships remained stable, increasing by six per cent. However, again, many employers reported finding it to difficult to recruit school leavers or college leavers into IT based roles and skilled trades. This was due to the location of job opportunities in addition to the difficulty for that group to travel or relocate to take them up.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the ISE said:

We can see patterns from the last financial crash emerging, but the effect on the student labour market is not a simple replay of 10 years ago.

Employers have had to make significant adjustments. As a result, graduate jobs do not appear to be collapsing and school and college leaver recruitment is holding up, but the decline in internships and placements is more worrying. Around half of placement students get rehired, so diminishing these roles damages the talent pipeline.

We mustn’t forget the students or ignore the lived experience of those who are struggling to cope with the crisis and to get a good start to their career. Covid-19 has turned many lives and career plans upside down. We must continue to offer opportunities so young people can develop and experience work, even if it is from students’ kitchen tables. And we look to the government to do all it can to ensure that the pandemic does not disrupt this key career transition from education to work.

*This research was taken from ISE research which was conducted between the 1st September and 7th October 2020. 179 respondents were employers from large organisations in varied sectors and locations around the UK.  These employers, in total, recruited 46,068 student hires this year.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.