Can Graduates fuel recovery in the central South?

In a report published earlier this month the Resolution Foundation argued that one consequence of economic recession is the challenge those leaving full time education will face in finding jobs.[i] The ‘lockdown’ in response to the threat of the Covid-19 virus is pushing the UK into one of the deepest recessions we have seen for many years,[ii] and the Foundation suggest that up to 640,000 under 25s could face unemployment. The Institute of Student Employers found that by early May there had been a 12% reduction in graduate jobs.[iii]

In the central South those impacts will be felt deeply across the community. One significant group who will feel the pressure are graduates from our universities. Our six Higher Education Institutions[iv] produced over 18,000 graduates in 2017,[v] and if, as the Resolution Foundation suggest, the current crisis causes graduate unemployment to rise then an additional 1,200 of those could be unemployed three years after graduating.

Not only will our graduates find it harder to get a job, the Resolution Foundation’s research shows those who do work are more likely to be in lower skilled and lower paid jobs than had they graduated when the economy was healthy, and more likely to be working part-time when they would not choose to do so.

At a personal level the damage unemployment may do to the career prospects of graduates matters. But it also matters to the central South’s economy, where the skills graduates bring matter in many of our priority sectors – from digital technologies to maritime and marine industries. If those high-value businesses struggle to recruit graduates, and there may be many reasons why they should, then the pace of economic recovery in our area will be slow.

As we begin the climb towards economic recovery, we need to think carefully about how we are going to fill those skilled roles in sectors with real growth potential. In doing so it’s worth looking again at the conclusions of a recent report by the Southern Policy Centre. In a study supported by Willmott Dixon and published in February 2019[vi] we found that many of those graduating from the central South’s universities go to work elsewhere, often to London. One of the challenges our businesses face is encouraging those graduates to stay and work locally, or to attract graduates from elsewhere to take jobs.

Maybe there is a simple way of helping the central South’s businesses re-build. Our universities produce a rich mix of talented individuals, and we need to work out how we can persuade them to stay and build their careers here. For their part, those graduates will be keen to find a career and avoid the risk of unemployment which recession brings. Many of them will be open to the idea of staying and working in an area they know well.

For businesses it may not be easy to recruit new staff, many may find it difficult to hold onto their existing staff never mind employ more. But they will also know that investing in skills is the best way of climbing out of recession. For LEPs and other business leaders, skills are already a priority, it may be that they can help businesses to retain graduates in the local economy.

Part of the answer may lie in new national programmes to support graduate employment, perhaps akin to 2009’s Future Jobs Fund – which supported jobs for young people – or, as one local recruiter has suggested, tax incentives to encourage businesses to take on and train young people. But it’s in our collective interest to find local solutions we can implement quickly, for example to support graduate jobs or assist graduates wanting to start their own businesses.

There is a real opportunity for our universities and business community to work together to keep those graduates in the central South. Together they help graduates find a secure future in challenging times, and those graduates can in turn help our economy get back on its feet quickly.

Simon Eden, May 2020


[i] “Class of 2020: Education leavers in the current crisis” – Resolution Foundation (May 2020) – https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/class-of-2020/

[ii] Monetary Policy Report – Bank of England (May 2020) – https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/monetary-policy-report/2020/may/monetary-policy-report-may-2020

[iii] Institute of Student Employers – news release reporting survey results (18/05/20) – https://ise.org.uk/page/PressReleases

[iv] Arts University Bournemouth, Bournemouth University, University of Portsmouth, Solent University, University of Southampton and University of Winchester

[v] All data on graduates are taken from the SPC’s report “Home, here or London: retaining graduates from the central South’s universities” (February 2019) – http://southernpolicycentre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/SPC-Retaining-Graduates-Report-Feb-2019-4th-revise7475.pdf

[vi] “Home, here or London: retaining graduates from the central South’s universities” – SPC (2019) (loc.sit.)