Why now is the perfect time to hire a grad – and how employers can stand out in a crowded market

For businesses of all sizes, recruiting quality people has become more challenging than ever in a tight labour market where there are more jobs than there are candidates.

But one area where there’s no shortage of quality candidates is the graduate market – a fact that’s not lost on employers, who are increasingly turning to them to strengthen their teams and build for the future.

At the start of this year, the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported that the number of graduate vacancies was 20% higher than in 2019, with job vacancies for graduates expected to increase by more than a fifth (22%) this year compared to 2021.

This shift is playing out in the businesses we partner with, who are more open than ever to hiring a graduate and training them up. To put this into context, so far this year we’ve had roughly twice as many conversations with employers about graduate hires as we had in the first half of 2021.

It’s clearly good news for the class of 2022, who endured remote learning and pandemic pressures over the last two years. Indeed, such is their transformation in fortunes that many are now being considered for more senior roles than they might previously have been due to the challenging recruitment market employers find themselves in. As a result, an increasing number are securing roles with significantly higher salaries than they would have achieved prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grads bring huge value to businesses

But this isn’t a one-sided arrangement; employers are benefitting too. Roles that might have sat vacant for a little while are now being quickly filled by grads. And while many graduates have had less time and experience in the workplace because of the pandemic, employers are looking past that and focusing on the array of positives that they can bring to the workplace.

For a start, the current cohort of graduates come with an impressive level of resilience and adaptability having overcome the many challenges of studying during the pandemic, from significantly downgraded tutoring through to learning in an environment not drastically different to a low security prison.

They have fresh ideas and new talents to offer, two assets that are particularly welcome in any organisation that’s looking to evolve and improve the services it offers. For example, it’s well-documented that digital skills are becoming ever more important in the world of business – and students are generally as tech-savvy as they come, having benefited from an increased emphasis on digital in higher education in recent years.

Finally, they’re ambitious: graduates want to develop and learn and are hungry for new challenges, particularly as many have been starved of opportunities to gain workplace experience over the last two years.

Which begs the obvious question: with competition for talented grads at its fiercest for many years, what can employers do to stand out and attract the best of the crop?

It’s about appealing to what generation Z really cares about

Yes, salary remains important in 2022, particularly at a time when the UK is enduring the worst cost of living crisis for 30 years.

Training and development

But what most grads value, more highly even than a good starting salary, is the opportunity for learning and development in a role. Too many small businesses confuse this with opportunities for promotion – it’s not the same thing. Investing in a graduate’s development does not mean promoting them, it’s about providing them with great mentorship and arming them with the knowledge and skills needed to do a great job and get ahead in the world of business. You don’t need to have enormous training budgets at your disposal either, there are some fantastic courses, many of them free and delivered by universities, that provide valuable training to develop skills and knowledge relevant to the modern workplace.

Flexible working

Flexible working is front of mind for all employees currently – and graduates are no different. They’re looking for an employer that gives them the chance to fit other commitments and activities around work and make better use of their free time. But don’t misinterpret this as graduates deprioritising work in any way – that’s not the case. They simply want greater flexibility in terms of when and where they work, and to be judged on their output, rather than the time they have spent working. Employers should be bold in their approach to flexible working, while ensuring they provide employees with clear objectives that are visited and reviewed regularly.

Socially and ethically conscious

Finally, Gen Z graduates are increasingly attracted by employers who are socially and ethically conscious. But this doesn’t mean that you need an all-singing, all-dancing CSR programme in place to attract graduates. Far from it. Graduates just want to know that they’re joining a business that, at the very least, has an appetite to make a meaningful contribution to society. If you don’t have a CSR programme in place – and let’s face it, many small businesses don’t – it’s not a blocker and it could even be turned into an opportunity for a graduate to lead the development of one.

Open to hiring a graduate for your business? Let’s talk! You can get in touch online or by giving us a call on 0113 457 9990.

Natalie McGregor

Commercial Director


Natalie McGregor