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A graduate employer survey conducted by Ulster University has given a unique insight into graduate labour market recruitment needs to help address the current skills gap and support economic growth and recovery post COVID-19.

Key findings

  • 99 graduate employers from NI, ROI and across the UK completed the graduate employer survey.
  • Communication, digital soft skills, and technical Information Technology (IT) related skills ranked highly important amongst graduate employers.
  • 85% of graduate employers stated relevant work experience closely followed by degree classification was the most important factor in the selection of graduate recruits.
  • 70% of graduate employers typically recruit placement students into longer term paid roles following the culmination of their placement.
  • 18% of respondents stated that more than half of their jobs were open to graduates from any degree discipline.
  • Respondents expressed a strong interest towards engaging in enterprise projects, curriculum design and the delivery of teaching and learning.
  • 48% of respondents are keen to engage with Ulster’s campus spaces.
  • Significant proportion of graduate starting salaries above £21,000.
  • 38% of those surveyed stated there is an undersupply of graduate skills.

Graduate employers were asked about their future graduate recruitment plans, average starting salaries, required skill sets and skill deficits, placements along with graduate recruitment selection activities and collaborative opportunities. 99 graduate employers from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK responded to the survey with many calling for greater collaboration with the higher education sector to ensure that programmes of study align with labour market demand.

Angela Scanlon, Director of Employability at Ulster University commented:

“Graduate employability has always been at the heart of what we do at Ulster, and we are proud of the fact fifteen months after graduating, 92% of our graduates are in work or further study.

As highlighted in the report, common themes of collaboration, relevant work experience and the importance of written and verbal communication, digital soft skills and technical IT related skills are well documented.

We’re working to address how we support the need for great employer collaboration through our Integrated Curriculum Design Framework, informing campus based and digital learning experiences.

We are continuing to drive forward our work based learnings, placement and internship opportunities for students as they are an integral part of building talent pipelines to ensure the future workforce is equipped with the skills and knowledge to help address the skills gap, support economic growth and post Covid recovery. ”

Ulster Law graduate Nathan Moore completed a placement opportunity with multinational law firm Pinsent Masons before securing a graduate job with the firm, he said:

“The findings of the Ulster graduate employer survey highlight the importance of work experience to employers.

My work placement gave me the opportunity to examine commercial problems in real time and find suitable commercial solutions and that was really useful to draw on in my job interview and now my work every day.

The current graduate job market is very competitive and my work placement really made me stand out to my employer and it meant I had the skills and knowledge to hit the ground running.”

Clodagh Nugent, HR Talent Management and Acquisition at Allstate commented:

“Graduates, internships, placements and other work-based learning pathways play an important role in supporting the talent pipeline of our organisation in areas including Technology, Finance and Data Science.

It is vital that companies and academia such as Ulster University engage closely to understand how talent management and business development needs can be met in the post-pandemic era.

This continued collaboration can ensure a strong entry-level talent pipeline in Northern Ireland and support economic recovery.”

Hilary Faith, Site Manager at Lakeland Dairies Co-operative Society Limited commented:

“As we emerge from the Covid pandemic into this new world, education, industry and many others have been forced to adapt in these extremely difficult times.

Never has there been a more exciting opportunity for industry and education to work together to forge a new pathway forward.

At Lakeland Dairies, we welcome this prospect to collaborate with higher education institutes to develop a programme of industrial experience for students that is valued by its participants, the university, and our Co-Operative. Being a former graduate of Ulster University, this is a very exciting prospect and I am looking forward to the evolution of the programme, and the opportunities it will bring.”

Rachel Doherty, Managing Director of 4C UR Future commented:

“Collaboration between Further and Higher Education and employers from all sectors, through initiatives such as placements and internships provided by Ulster University, give young people valuable, real-world work experience and play a vital role in helping employers ensure a sustainable talent pipeline.

These practical learning opportunities also boost the employability of young people, with this report finding 85% of employers rate work experience as an important criteria in the selection process for graduate recruits, and 70% typically offer placement students longer-term paid roles following placement completion.

At 4C UR Future, we recognise the significance of learning through getting stuck in – our 4C UR Future LIVE events for Year 9 pupils deliver industry-led mini work experiences through skills-based games and challenges to engage, inform, and inspire young people about the future of work in a rapidly changing skills environment.

We are delighted to be partnering with Ulster University through the Graduate Leadership Programme and have welcomed local graduate, Elsa Nasibi, to our organisation as a Content Creation Intern.”

To find out more about our Integrated Curriculum Design Framework and how to get involved with our Employability and Careers team contact