By Heike Behle
A recent IER report prepared for HEFCE and SRHE shows that the proportion of employed graduates working in non-graduate jobs during their first year after graduation has remained high. Fifteen months after graduation, approximately 36 per cent of all employed graduates from three year courses and 30 per cent of all employed graduates from four year courses were still working in non-graduate jobs, defined as jobs for which a graduate level education is inappropriate.
The definition and empirical classification of occupations in non-graduate or graduate jobs is contested and there is a plethora of different ways to measure the amount of graduates in non-graduate jobs. This report uses a definition from Elias and Purcell (2004 ), based on the type of work typically performed in a job and the extent to which such work makes use of the skills and knowledge gained through higher education. This classification varies from that of the recent White Paper  where occupations of the first three major SOC groups are identified as professional jobs.
The report compares the early pathways of graduates from two leaving cohorts: those who graduated in 1999 (‘class of 1999’) and those who graduated from three year courses in 2009 and from four year courses in 2010 (‘class of 2009/2010’) as illustrated in the graph opposite.
On average, all graduates in both cohorts were employed for approximately ten months, in total. However, the proportion of graduates from the class of 2009/2010 who never entered employment during the first fifteen months after graduation was between 26 per cent and 29 per cent, nearly twice the proportion, compared to those who graduated ten years earlier (class of 1999). One explanation could be that many graduates enter further study in order to avoid unemployment or employment in non-graduate jobs.
Age, social background, specific subjects, type of HEI and the class of degree were significant influences in both cohorts while differences existed with regards to gender, mobility and work experience. In line with other current reports (the Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences degree accreditation and graduate employability, the Wakeham Review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability, and HEFCE analysis of differential outcomes of graduates) , the increasing relevance of work experience was highlighted. For the class of 1999 work experiences did not have a significant impact on the likelihood to work in a graduate job. However, this was the case for those who graduated ten years later.
This was also reflected in a brief qualitative research study in which many graduates reported that employers expected them to have work experience but were not prepared to offer opportunities for graduates. Also, many graduates reported the negative impact of being stuck in non-graduate roles which they defined as a vicious circle, in which their current employment had implications for their self-confidence, which might lead to a degrading of skills and knowledge. As a result, their capacity to leave the non-graduate job and find employment in a graduate position might be limited.
 Elias, P. and Purcell, K. (2004) SOC (HE): A classification of occupations for studying the graduate labour market. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ier/research/completed/7yrs2/rp6.pdf
 BIS (2016) Higher education: success as a knowledge economy: teaching excellence, social mobility, and student choice. Can be downloaded here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-success-as-a-knowledge-economy-white-paper
Heike Behle is a Research Fellow at the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick (http://www.warwick.ac.uk/ier). Heike is also a co-convenor of the SRHE’s Employability, Enterprise and Work-based Learning Network