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University of Newcastle Vice Chancellor professor Caroline McMillan
University of Newcastle Vice Chancellor professor Caroline McMillan

Graduates struggling to find work

A historic low in the rate of full-time employment for new university graduates is cause for concern but not panic, the University of Newcastle stated.

Data has found the rate at which Australia’s new bachelor’s degree holders find full-time employment within four months of graduation has fallen to its lowest level since the economic recession of the early 1990s.

The latest job figures, released on July 29 in a Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) report, suggest that just 71.3 per cent of new graduates had found full-time work – the lowest result since 1993 when the rate fell to 71.2 per cent.

The report – Graduate Destinations 2013 – indicates the rate of full-time employment for new graduates peaked at 85.2 per cent in 2008, in the lead up to the global financial crisis, but has dropped consistently each year since.

Based on a survey of more than 43,000 new graduates seeking full-time work in 2013, the GCA report found that more than 1 in 10 remained unemployed after four months.

A further 18.1 per cent reported working part time, representing the highest percentage of new graduates do be doing so in the past 24 years.

University of Newcastle vice-chancellor professor Caroline McMillen said the higher education sector should be “alert but not alarmed” by the report, which she said reflected the difficult economic and labour market.

“The unemployment rate for graduates is still about half that for the general population so I think that in a difficult employment environment I would prefer to go into that with a degree – that still holds,” she said.

McMillen said most universities were already creating greater opportunities for work-integrated learning to increase the employment prospects of their graduates.

“While a degree helps employment, it does not guarantee employment … and the evidence certainly does suggest that engaging with the industry you’re seeking to enter supports employability, so I think for us that is the key.”

GCA strategy and policy adviser Bruce Guthrie told Campus Review that despite the trends identified in the report, long-term unemployment should not be a major concern for new graduates, who he said were still well placed to reap the advantages of a university degree.

“It is not that they’re not getting [full-time] jobs – it is just that it is taking them longer,” Guthrie said. “What we’re seeing is the lingering effects of the GFC, where we saw recruiters pulling out of the labour market, not wanting to be exposed to hiring too many new graduates.

“It is a classic case of increased supply and reduced demand … just as we saw during the early ’90s recession.”

Guthrie said the trend was hitting some groups harder than others, with social sciences and humanities graduates amongst the worst affected.

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