What are the prospects for this year's graduates?

Where to head for a job

Graduates Wearing Caps and Gowns

For the last few weeks, degree ceremonies have been in full swing across the UK, delighting local newspaper picture editors keen on pretty girls with gowns and mortarboards.

As many as 37% of this year's graduates have already got a job lined up, according to High Flyers Research - the highest proportion since it started compiling its figures in 1995.

A quarter are planning do a postgraduate course, and one in seven hope to take time off or go travelling.

For the rest, though, the real work starts here. According to data from jobs website Aduzna, there were 62,750 entry level jobs available to graduates across the UK last month, a 15.7% increase on 2014.

Unfortunately, there will be over 350,000 graduates chasing these jobs; and in some areas, indeed, there are more than 35 graduates for each graduate position.

The competition is, as you might expect, at its worst in London and the south east.

"Ever-hungry for talent, London is pulling in graduates even faster than it can create vacancies, driving up competition for jobs to daunting heights," says Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna.

Despite this, though, things are improving, with competition for graduate entry-level jobs 9.2% lower than this time last year.

So where are the best places to look for a graduate job?

The greatest number of graduate entry jobs are, unsurprisingly, to be found in London and the south east, which account for almost half of the UK total. The east of England is a good prospect too.

"Graduates looking for highest paying entry level roles should head to Cambridge, where advertised vacancies for the newly qualified can result in average pay close to £40,000 pa," says Adzuna.

"The worst paying cities for graduate jobs include Sunderland and Cardiff, where grads can expect to earn significantly less than the national average salaries."

Cambridge currently has over ten jobs for every applicant. And, interestingly, it isn't the only university city to present good job-hunting prospects: Oxford, Manchester, Bristol and Exeter score highly too.

In terms of job sector, consulting is the most popular destination for new graduates, figures from High Flyers Research show. Marketing, the media and charity or voluntary work come next.

According to Adzuna, though, none of these sectors is showing much salary growth at the moment: indeed, creative and design jobs are paying less than this time last year.

Overall, graduate starting salaries seem to be down on last year - especially for mechanical engineers, who are now being offered 3.8% less than in 2014.

But some sectors are on the up: customer service jobs have seen the biggest increase in pay over the last year, at 17.3%, followed by jobs in administration and marketing.

It's worth remembering that nearly one in three graduates is currently in a non-graduate job, according to the government's latest graduate employment figures.

"If we don't create better jobs for graduates we won't be able to build the higher-skilled workforce the UK desperately needs to boost productivity and compete with other countries," commented TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady.

But Hunter says the data indicates that employers may be starting to do just that.

"Employers are clearly keen to build their junior staff," he says.

"It's a sign that British businesses are gearing up for the future – we're moving beyond the short-term firefighting tactics of the early recovery and into steady investment in our future talent."

Generally speaking, the prospect is bright for this year's crop of graduates - despite the fact that they're saddled with the highest-ever levels of student debt.

They can expect to earn as much as £12,000 a year more than their non-graduate peers, amounting to a whacking £500,000 over an average working life.

"The road ahead might look tough for UK graduates, but they're actually better off than last year's cohort in terms of range of opportunities, salaries, and competition," says Hunter.

"The class of 2015 are following in the footsteps of the graduates that faced the recession, marching out into the cold to take their chances. The situation is sunnier for this year's graduates, but they can still learn from the lessons of their recession-toughened counterparts: it's important to gain experience wherever possible as a fresh graduate."

Biggest improvers – job sectors by average salary (Adzuna)

Job Sector
Average Advertised SalarySalary % 12 Month Change
Customer service £22,193 +17.3%
Administration £22,277 +14.5%
Manufacturing £30,454 +12.2%
Travel £25,789 +11.9%
Trade & construction £38,924 +11.2%

Worst improvers – job sectors by average salary (Adzuna)

Job SectorAverage Advertised Salary Salary % 12 Month Change
Energy, oil & gas £41,901 -11.0%
Creative & design £30,365 -0.3%
Legal £44,498 +1.1%
PR/marketing/advertising £34,630 +1.6%
Sales £31,297 +1.7%

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