The U.K. job market for first-degree graduates fresh out of university is showing signs of recovery, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to a report released last week by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services in the United Kingdom. “Prospects for graduates going into some of the more severely recession-hit sectors have improved significantly in the last 12 months with all STEM and building management subjects experiencing higher employment and lower unemployment rates,” according to a press release from the two organizations. Many of those jobs, though, are not the sort that most young scientists are likely to be seeking.
The report—entitled What Do Graduates Do?—is based on data from the U.K. Higher Education Statistics Agency’s annual “Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education” (DLHE) survey, which probes the career destinations of U.K. university students 6 months after they graduate. This latest report documents career destinations of graduates who earned a first degree at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.
Employment rates may have improved, but many of those jobs were still in fields unrelated to the major.
Altogether, 256,350 of the United Kingdom’s first-degree graduates from arts and humanities, business and administration, engineering, math, and the sciences responded to the DLHE survey, for a 79.1% response rate. Combining all disciplines, the majority was employed full time (54.3%) or part time (13.7%) in the United Kingdom; another 2% found work overseas. A significant percentage of respondents—12.4%—were pursuing postgraduate education. Another 5.6% of respondents were working and studying simultaneously. Compared to a year earlier, the employment rate increased from 73.6% to 75.6%, and unemployment declined from 8.5% to 7.3%, “marking the biggest drop in early graduate unemployment in 15 years,” the two organizations stated jointly.
Which science disciplines are doing best? Respondents with a first degree in computer science (CS) or information technology (IT) were the most likely to be employed (73.9%), followed by sport science (69.5%), physical and geographical sciences (62.4%), math (55.9%), biology (54.7%), chemistry (50%), and physics (44.7%). Physics majors were the most likely to continue studying (35.2%), followed by chemistry (33.1%), biology (24.4%), math (22.7%), physical and geographical sciences (19.6%), sports science (13.9%), and CS and IT (7.5%). Unemployment (including graduates due to take a job in the next month) affected CS and IT-degree recipients most severely (13%), followed by physics (9.5%), biology (9.4%), math (8.5%), chemistry (8.2%), physical and geographical (6.6%), and sports science majors (4.7%).
Employment rates may have improved, but many of those jobs were still in fields unrelated to the major. Six months after graduation, the most common category of employment for U.K. biology graduates was “retail, catering, waiting and bar staff” (21.9%), followed by “other professionals, associate professionals and technicians”—a broad range of positions that included museum curators, biodiversity officers, and microbiology technicians (16.5%). Next came “clerical, secretarial and numerical clerk occupations” (10.2%) and then “other occupations”—a category that included call center advisers (9.7%). Child care, health, and education positions occupied 8.5% of biology grads. Only 7.2% of biology graduates took positions as science professionals in industry and other nonacademic sectors.
Chemists, in contrast, most often took jobs as “science professionals” (21.6%). This job category was followed by “other professionals, associate professionals and technicians,” including energy and safety analysts (17.5%); “business, HR, and finance professionals” (12.3%); “retail, catering, waiting and bar staff” (11.7%); “other occupations” such as canvassers at district councils (6.3%); and “marketing, PR and sales professionals” (5.3%).
Just like their biology peers, graduates from the physical and geographical sciences most often went into “retail, catering, waiting and bar staff” (20.3%) jobs. The next most common categories were “other professionals, associate professionals and technicians,” including geographic information system support analysts and parliamentary researchers (13.5%); “business, HR and finance professionals” (13.2%); “clerical, secretarial and numerical clerk occupations” (11.5%); “other occupations,” including fundraising interns (11.1%); and “marketing, PR and sales professionals” (7.6%).
Physicists most often took jobs as IT professionals (20.1%), followed by “business, HR and finance professionals” (17.9%); “engineering and building professionals” (10.5%); “science professionals” (8.9%); “retail, catering, waiting and bar staff” (7.4%); and “other professionals, associate professionals and technicians,” including patent attorneys (6.5%).
Sports science majors most often became associate professionals and technicians (22.9%). The next-largest group held jobs in retail and catering (16.5%); other (11.6%); child care, health, and education (10.5%); education (9.2%); and clerical and secretarial (6.0%) sectors.
Math graduates primarily occupied jobs as “business, HR and finance professionals” (37.7%). Next came numerical clerks (11.5%); IT professionals (11.4%); “education professionals” (8.8%); retail, catering, waiting, and bar staff” (8.6%); and other, including radio producers (4.4%).
CS and IT graduates most often became IT professionals (56.7%). Another 10.2% worked in retail and catering, and 6.3% held “other occupations,” which for this group included train station assistants. The data also showed that 6.0% worked in “business, HR and finance,” while 4.7% worked in clerical and secretarial occupations, and 3% were managers.
Overall—for all majors—“retail, catering, waiting and bar staff” was the second most common occupation category, but—and this is probably a good thing—it is slightly smaller than the year before, receding from 13.7% to 13.0%. Among professional jobs, science and engineering employment expanded more than any other category. Six months after leaving university, some 2000 graduates had found jobs as science professionals, a healthy 22.4% increase over the previous academic year.
Unemployment declined only marginally for recent master’s degree recipients, but new doctorate holders are faring much better: Six months after graduation, 88.7% of them were either employed or working and studying. While the vast majority of those employed in the United Kingdom were working as university researchers and higher education teaching professionals, recent Ph.D. recipients found themselves in a wide range of other sectors, including health care centers, R&D companies, public administration and defense, and computer programming.
Want to know more? You can read the whole report here.