What is the shape of the graduate job market? (Part 2 of 2)

This article continues my intent to explore the extent to which the 80% rule is a useful concept for exploring the nature of the graduate job market. I am seeking to answer:

  • Is 80% a good approximation for the overall number of graduate jobs which can be entered via any degree subject?
  • Of these, how many prefer a relevant degree subject?

To answer this, I explored a variety of evidence as seen in part 1 of this article, where we surmised the following:

  • Graduate employers in the areas of STEAM and some in MFL, will look for an essential or relevant degree subject to enter these areas of work.
  • Approximately 40% to 66% of graduate recruiters in all other areas, will accept any degree subject.
  • Of those who do not, they will prefer a relevant degree subject

These factors will be affected by location, role, as well as sector and size of business.

80% rule?

But what of the 80%? To what extent is the post-graduate job market split between STEAM / MFL and our other sectors?

Again, statistics on this subject are slim. However, we can look at the Highfliers Graduate Market in 2020[i] report which, covers the post-graduate job market from the viewpoint of employers. Looking at table 2.7 which provides an “Analysis of Graduate Job Vacancies in 2020, by Industry or Business Sector. With the awareness that the report looks at sector as opposed to occupation (with the risks this entails).

Their categories which align with the STEAM category are as follows:

  • Chemistry & Pharmaceuticals
  • Engineering and Industrial
  • Oil & Energy
  • Technology

Obvious by omission are the occupations within healthcare that require an essential degree, as these are tangled up within the Public Sector numbers. Using the revised figures listed for January 2020 within the study, the combined percentage (of the above categories) comes in at: 22.98% of the overall job vacancies listed. Close to our 20% prediction.

Yet, there are huge risks with this methodology. As industry is a very different classification to occupation as not everyone working within each will be vocational specialists.

We need something more robust to contrast with. Enter the timely and crucial read from Prospects and the “What do graduate do?” report for 2020/21[ii]. Within this we find our clarity.

This provides us with the number of graduates working in each of the following professions:

  • Engineering and building professionals: 7.3%
  • Health professionals: 14.5%
  • Information technology professionals: 6.0%
  • Science professionals: 1.4%

Providing us a total of STEAM graduates at 29.2% of the total.

Within the data I have explored so far, there are no specific details on the percentage of roles which require an MFL degree as an essential entry requirement. This is open to debate as some individuals work in this area without an MFL degree due to having second or third languages (for example in the areas of translation) however, if working within high profile interpreting roles we know that “Being fluent in two or more languages alone isn’t enough to become an interpreter, as the majority of employers also look for a formal qualification in interpreting and/or languages.[iii]

In addition, those roles within finance such as an Economist where an essential degree subject is essential[iv] are difficult to extrapolate from the category of Business, HR and finance professionals. Similar can be said for emerging VFX roles requiring essential degree subjects (much like Architecture) which could be hidden within Art, Design and Media professionals. It is also worth noting that not all building professionals may fall within the STEAM category and require an “essential” degree to enter so, there may be fewer within this category deemed as requiring an “essential” degree subject.

To account for these grey areas, as well as potential variation between different years, we could say that approximately 20% to 30% of all graduate occupations require an essential degree.

A more detailed analysis looking at this data over a sustained period and in greater depth, would provide us with a more detailed picture of trends and the grey areas highlighted above. I lay that down as a challenge for the data analysts out there!


Having explored our data. We can bring both parts of this study together and conclude the following:

  • 20% to 30% of all graduate jobs will require an essential or relevant degree subject to enter (in the areas of STEAM and some in MFL). Of the remaining 70% to 80% these can be entered via any degree due to transferable skills and experience.
  • Of these, approximately 40% to 66% of graduate recruiters, will accept any degree subject; of those who do not, they will prefer a relevant degree subject.

These factors are affected by location, role, as well as sector and size of business and may vary year on year.

One surprise for me in the data, was how few students progressed to become Science professionals in the above data. Whether this was because many went onto study higher, I am uncertain (this would require a follow up study).

In our earlier investigation (see part 1 of this article) the following was found with regards to this:

“Concerns about graduate outcomes in STEM degrees led to two reviews, the Wakeham Review and the Shaboldt Review on computer sciences. These identified particular STEM subject areas where more research was needed to establish the reasons for performing less well in the labour market. Their own research pointed to four areas: lack of ‘softer skills’, business awareness and practical subject specific skills; lack of work experience; lack of career planning and awareness of employment opportunities; and lack of quantitative skills and mathematics for STEM graduates.[v]


“The … Review found that graduates from some STEM subject areas suffered worse graduate outcomes … than others: Biological Sciences; Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences; and Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Food Sciences. Areas of less concern but equally recommended as meriting further research were Biomedical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Design.[vi]

As a practitioner this does raise questions regards the external agenda that has been seen in some areas, of blindly driving students towards STEM without greater understanding of the opportunities available and variations between different occupations within STEM. Similar can equally be said of the creative and related industries, where some roles have greater employment prospects than others. This emphasises why helping students understand not just relevant LMI but also, how they can develop strategies to navigate these situations is important.

Many of our students would benefit to know in greater detail how their skills can be “transferred” via the 80% rule, to help them navigate their future job prospects as well as help inform their decision making for post 16 and 18.

NB: When we look at career success and choices, it is important to note that there is no harm in studying something with statistically low employment prospects if individuals are informed of the risk. Indeed, study is not just about employment but can also be about fulfilment, personal growth, knowledge for its own sake and the love of a subject.  


Ultimately, all of this is nuanced. Data can provide us with a certain point of view, yet it does not consider the whims of circumstances, change and chance. Nor other ways of making choices. Therefore, we need to remain cautious when exploring these concepts with our clients.

I recall an employer meeting from a few years ago, where I was talking to a financial analyst who worked in “finance in the city” who said his current employer actively recruited those without any finance qualifications, as they wished to train graduates themselves (so they didn’t “bring bad habits with them”). Across the road at another firm, he said they actively recruited finance graduates as it saved them money on training whilst they also brought relevant skills… that is nuance!

Yet, it is not just my experiences, nuance is found in a myriad of different places. The acclaimed careers writer and practitioner Alan Bullock[vii] shared this experience with me of a student who was successful in gaining a place on the competitive Aldi graduate training scheme.

Asked what had contributed to her success, she said:

“The game-changers for me were my passion for retail, my third-year placement (she did a sandwich course) and being secretary of the university taekwondo club, which was how I showcased my leadership skills”.

As Alan says “I think that one quote contributes something very useful to our conversation about nuances. Her degree (Economics & Politics) was relevant without being vocational, but what mattered was the whole package not just the subjects she chose to study”.

It is this holistic consideration of careers management and development which is vital. Within our practice we need to recognise the grey areas and talk about these with our clients.

My wish is that this long form blog article, will be useful to other practitioners attempting to communicate the complexities of the post-graduate job market to students in school. Especially when time is often short and against us.

Wishing you all the very best wishes for the holiday season and new year. Stay safe and be well.





[v] Page 6, DFE Graduate choices in post-education jobs and careers – a literature review May 2019

[vi] Page 28, DFE Graduate choices in post-education jobs and careers – a literature review May 2019


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