Graduate opportunities are on the up but employers are struggling to fill a number of vacancies thanks to skills shortages and recruitment difficulties

It's easy to believe all the doom and gloom surrounding the graduate job market but in fact graduate employment figures are at a ten-year high. According to HESA data the majority (76.4%) of 2015 graduates were in employment six months after graduation. Most of those working were in professional-level, permanent jobs. Another positive is that graduate unemployment is down to 5.7% - a level associated with non-recessionary labour markets.

While things are looking up for graduates, employers are feeling the effect of recruitment difficulties and skills shortages. Around a third of all vacancies at professional level are hard to fill and large recruiters (those with more than 250 employees) find it difficult to recruit for almost half (48%) of their jobs.

According to the 2015 Employer Skills Survey from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, candidates' displaying a shortage of required skills has had an impact on 94% of employers. Two fifths of recruiters reported delays in the development of new products or services, while 35% said skills shortages held back the development of new working practices. UK businesses are approaching record levels of recruitment difficulties, with almost 80% of manufacturing companies struggling to recruit. Employers in the construction, engineering, IT, healthcare and hospitality industries also regularly report hiring difficulties.

Hard to fill graduate jobs

At least 50 professional-level positions can currently be classed as hard to fill, these include:

  • Quantity surveyors (77% of employers said they had positions that were hard to fill)
  • Mechanical engineers (72%)
  • Vets (64%)
  • Nurses (58%)
  • Research and development managers (57%)
  • Programmers/software developers (56%)
  • Financial/accounting technicians (54%)
  • Estimators, valuers and assessors (52%)
  • Engineering technicians (51%)
  • Civil engineers (50%)
  • Design development engineers (49%).

Employers also struggle to recruit doctors, web designers, solicitors, accountants, construction project managers, IT technicians, PR professionals, sports coaches and marketing professionals.

The reasons behind their hard-to-fill status are varied. The majority of employers (45.2%) cite a low number of applicants with the required skills as the main cause, while just over a fifth (21.4%) put it down to a lack of appropriate work experience.

Other factors affecting the recruitment for hard-to-fill roles include:

  • a low number of applicants (17.8%)
  • not enough interest in the job (14.2%)
  • a lack of appropriate qualifications (13.7%)
  • not enough applicants with the required attitude, motivation or personality (10.3%)
  • poor terms and conditions (10.3%)
  • the job is in a remote location or has poor public transport links (9.7%)
  • too much competition from other employers (9.2%).

Let’s take a look at a few of these reasons in more depth.

A lack of required skills

This often goes hand-in-hand with other issues such as the employer requesting an unrealistic amount of required skills and may not always be a direct result of a candidates lack of skills.

However, being able to match your skills and abilities to those requested in the job description is essential for success. Possessing one or two from a list of requirements isn't going to cut it. No surprise then that the recruitment for a number of professional level jobs is affected by a skills shortage.

Technical/practical skills in short supply include advanced/specialist IT skills, writing instructions, guidelines, manuals or reports, complex numerical or statistical understanding, knowledge of how the organisation works and problem solving ability.

In-demand soft skills include the ability to set objectives for others, resource planning, instructing, teaching or training people, managing and motivating staff, customer handling skills, time management skills and the ability to prioritise.

Find out more about the skills that employers want.

Graduate jobs most likely to be hard to fill due to a lack of required skills span a range of sectors. They include:

Not enough work experience

A lack of work experience can also affect your chances of securing certain professional-level roles.

The majority of graduate jobs require some form of previous relevant experience so make sure you do your research and plan placements in advance of applying for positions. Placements provide you with an invaluable insight into a particular area of work and also give you a feel for what working in your chosen industry or company is like. Completing work experience, internships, work shadowing and volunteer placements shows initiative and drive and such experience is highly valued by employers.

That said, it can be hard to secure experience and source placements in certain industries, for example in the creative sector, therefore in some circumstances employers have to answer for a candidates lack of experience.

It's likely to be tough to secure the following jobs without the required amount of experience:

  • Artist
  • PR professional
  • Science/engineering technician
  • Property manager
  • Tax specialist
  • Insurance underwriter
  • Chartered architectural technologist
  • Quality assurance technician
  • Architectural technician
  • Financial accounts manager
  • Business/sales account manager
  • Chemical scientist.

Discover more about work experience and internships.

Insufficient number of applicants

Another reason why graduate vacancies are hard to fill is the lack of suitable candidates. At least 30% of each reported vacancy (of which there were 100) was difficult to recruit for due to insufficient applicants.

Jobs affected by this include:

  • Radiographers
  • Chartered architectural technologist and architectural technicians
  • Finance/accounting technicians
  • Arts officers/producers/directors
  • Surveyors
  • Business project managers
  • Residential care managers
  • Medical practitioners
  • Town planners and technicians
  • Engineering technicians.

Other reasons why graduate jobs are hard to fill

A love of what you do is important and it would seem that graduates agree. A lack of people actually wanting to do the job has an impact on the recruitment of:

  • Clergy
  • Tax specialists
  • Health and safety officers
  • Production/process engineers
  • Residential care managers
  • Science/engineering technicians.

Employers also struggle to recruit for roles with poor terms and conditions (salary, working hours, holiday entitlement etc.) Jobs affected encompass:

Find out more