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New Ulster University research has found the majority of employers (62%) in Northern Ireland are increasing their graduate intake in a bid to plug the recruitment gap, with almost all (94%) stating that work experience is important in the selection of graduate recruits, and a third (31%) recruiting from all subject areas.

The 2022/23 Graduate Employer Survey Report surveyed employers from across Northern Ireland to gain a unique insight and better understanding into graduate labour market recruitment needs to help address the current skills gap and support economic growth.

The report has also found that while 58% of employers are experiencing recruitment challenges with even more (62%) reporting ‘too few candidates’ as their main recruitment challenge, almost two-fifths (39%) stated there is an undersupply of graduate skills. When respondents were asked how the higher education sector can better support the development of these skills, many pointed towards the importance of the year-long placement model and the value of work-based learning.

Other key findings include: 

  • 72% reported an average graduate starting salary of £21,000.
  • 26% require support in developing inclusive, diverse, and confident workforces.
  • IT and computing skills top technical skills identified.
  • Verbal and written communication top soft skills identified.

This year’s survey was conducted in the wake of the launch of the new Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland in March 2022, which sets a strategic framework for the development of the skills system to 2030. Higher education institutions will play a vital role in this strategy, particularly around increasing the proportion of individuals achieving first degrees and post-graduate qualifications in technical subject areas and expanding educational pathways.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Professor Angela Scanlon, Director of Student and Graduate Success at Ulster University said:

“It is more important than ever for Ulster University to listen and respond to the employer voice to ensure that new and existing partners have access to student and graduate talent with relevant skills, and to support the employability outcomes of students. As a multi-campus university in Northern Ireland, we place a strong emphasis on collaborating with employers to understand the skills and attributes they require and strive to connect our student and graduate talent to the labour market.

“The strength and sustainability of Ulster’s partnerships with employers however, relies on the institution being aware and responsive to their needs and keeping abreast of recruitment changes to support agile and flexible practice which is why this survey is so important for us.”

Ulster University Marketing final year student Rachel O’Kane completed a placement opportunity with Mercedes-Benz Truck and Van NI, and has secured a role with the firm for when she graduates. Rachel commented:

“When coming back into my final year to complete my Marketing degree, the practical experience dealing with supply chain issues and change of management during my placement year with Mercedes-Benz Truck and Van NI was invaluable when it came to both my academic work and drawing upon the experiences when applying for graduate roles.

“I was lucky enough to continue working with Mercedes when completing my final year and have secured graduate employment with them as well, and with the graduate market being so competitive, I was more than grateful to accept the opportunity. Completing a placement year really helped me to firm my decision that Marketing was the right career path for me.”

Aisling McConaghy, Talent Acquisition Lead at Almac Group said:

“The Almac Group is a significant employer of graduate and placement students. We are encouraged that through this report, the voice of employers is being heard on graduate work readiness, particularly around the areas of soft skills and work expectations. The survey outcomes provide valuable insights into areas that employers like Almac and academic institutes can continue to work through together, to support young people starting out in their professional careers.”

Lorraine Rodgers, Operations Director at Doherty Pension and Investment Consultancy said:

"This survey gives SMEs like us a vital voice to get across the essential skills that individuals need to succeed in the financial services industry. Conversely, it lets the university know what we are looking for so employability engagement activities can be centred around these requirements per industry and the right talent can be matched with a suitable employer. This survey will also give employers the chance to open the door of possible careers in their relevant industries to those students who did not necessarily consider a career in a certain area, but with the help of this survey will be able to see a skill match with a particular industry and a chance to broaden their career options.”

Engagement with employers takes a variety of forms at Ulster University, including collaboration in the design and delivery of the curriculum and work-based learning opportunities, research and innovation, and employer advisory boards.

To find out more about our Employer Advisory Board opportunities, and how to connect with student and graduate talent, contact: