What do graduates do? offers a glimpse of the graduate labour market in 2021

December, 2020

Prospects at Jisc's annual What do graduates do? report launches today (7 December 2020), helping students to make more informed decisions about their careers

The indispensable guide, created in partnership with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), is aimed at employers, policymakers, education providers and all those who support students.

Based on HESA's Graduate Outcomes data, which surveyed 2017/18 graduates 15 months after they had left university, it indicates what a post-vaccine graduate labour market might look like. Key findings:

6% graduate unemployment rate would signal recovery

Under normal circumstances, an early unemployment rate would be between 5% and 6% for graduates - unemployment was 5.5% for 2017/18 graduates. It may take some time to settle down to that level but once it comes back to around 6% the graduate labour market can be considered to have recovered.

Postgraduate study will stabilise

Twelve per cent of 2017/8 graduates were in further study and in total about 18% had taken a postgraduate course since graduation. For the next couple of years the figures are expected to increase slightly as postgraduate study always rises in a challenging labour market. More than a third (36%) of 2020 finalists surveyed by Prospects indicated that they plan to remain in higher education rather than start their careers this year. As the economy starts to recover, entry to postgraduate study should stabilise to a similar level to 2017/18.

Fewer self-employed graduates

Self-employment has been badly hit by the pandemic, especially in the crucial arts sector. Normally around 4% of graduates are solely self-employed, but it's closer to 8% once all graduates who have some form of self-employment as one of their activities are taken to account. This may be impacted in 2021 and until the arts recover, but it's anticipated that around 3-4% of new graduates will be self-employed as their core activity next year.

Little change in 'top 5 graduate jobs'

The most common jobs for graduates from 2017/18 were (in order) nurses (9,800), marketing (4,575), sales assistants (4,305), primary and nursery teachers (4,295) and programmers and software developers (4,160). Most of these roles have been relatively lightly affected by the pandemic, so those numbers should largely hold up - except for sales assistants. The top five most common jobs are relatively consistent. It will be interesting to see whether a different role will enter the list next year. Doctors or secondary school teachers look to be the most likely for 2021.

Disrupted graduate migration trends

Sixty six per cent of 2017/18 graduates went to work in their home region of the UK. Will the rise of remote working mean that graduates become ostensibly more mobile and more willing or able to take jobs with employers based further afield? Or will graduates opt for familiar surroundings in an uncertain labour market? And London's jobs market has been the most affected of all the UK - will this reduce the proportion working in the capital?

Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence for Prospects at Jisc said, 'Even if a vaccine is successfully rolled out, we can't assume an automatic return to 'normal' for young people starting out in their careers next year. But by looking at what happened to the last graduating cohort pre-pandemic there are some clear signals that help us to predict what they may find. This insight should be used with the latest labour market information to help, guide and advise students on their first steps to a brilliant career.'

Paul Feldman, chief executive at Jisc said, 'What do graduates do? will continue to evolve as Graduate Outcomes matures and will be at the forefront of supporting policy and planning as it has done for decades. It offers insight not just on what graduates do, but what they think. Understanding the lived experiences of graduates is just as important as understanding where they work, what jobs they do and how much they earn.'

Marc Lintern, president of AGCAS said, 'The new Graduate Outcomes data provides the sector with far more than just employment data. As a sector, we know that students enter university at different starting points and with different ambitions. This publication looks at graduate voice and subjective wellbeing data to try and understand - and respond to - what graduates truly feel and experience after leaving their institution.'

Media enquiries

Clare Tregaskis, Jisc Student Services, clare.tregaskis@jisc.ac.uk, 07792 429227

About Jisc 

Jisc's vision is for the UK to be a world leader in technology for education and research. It owns and operates the super-fast national research and education network, Janet, with built-in cyber security protection.  Jisc also provides technology solutions for members (colleges, universities and research centres) and customers (public sector bodies), helps members save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals and provides advice and practical assistance on digital technology. Jisc is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions. 

Prospects has worked at the heart of higher education for nearly 50 years. Part of Jisc Student Services, the directorate collaborates with government, universities and employers to improve student and graduate career outcomes through information, guidance and opportunities. It includes Prospects.ac.uk, which is visited by 2.1 million students and graduates each month, Prospects Luminate and the UK's official postgraduate course database. Jisc Student Services also manages Prospects Hedd degree verification and fraud services on behalf of the Office for Students.

For more information, contact kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk, or 07918 562869. Alternatively,  use media@jisc.ac.uk or 07443 983571.


The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) is the expert membership organisation for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals. We represent over 80% of UK higher education careers services, as well as a number of further education colleges and international university careers services. Through our members, we support the best possible career outcomes from higher education for individuals, institutions, society and the economy. As thought-leaders in the careers and employability profession, we use our own research and insights to inform debates in this area and provide answers by tapping into the expertise of our members. By bringing our member's knowledge, resources and expertise to public and private policy development, we ensure that any change is fully informed.

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