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9 facts about graduates who go straight into management

March 2019

Which graduates secure jobs as managers within six months of their graduation? Here are nine things we know about this high-achieving group…

Many young people aspire to have a career in management, with 63% of 16 to 21-year-olds interested in leading a team and 37% stating they would like to start their own business.1 This is encouraging as research shows the UK needs 1.9 million more managers by 2024 to keep pace with economic growth.2

In 2016/17, a total of 7,110 first-degree graduates became managers six months after graduation, which equates to 3.9% of the overall graduating cohort, according to HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) data.

1. The majority don't have a business degree

A fifth of these graduates studied subjects with a strong management component such as business studies (12.4%) and management studies (7.6%). The majority, however, had studied a subject that didn't directly correlate with this profession, implying that they utilised a combination of transferable skills and on-the-job training. Popular disciplines in this group were:

  • sport and exercise science (3.9%)
  • hospitality, leisure, sport, tourism and transport (3.9%)
  • psychology (3.6%)
  • design studies (3.3%)
  • history by period (3.1%)
  • building (3%)
  • economics (2.5%).

The short, six-month survey point will undoubtedly affect the data. It is likely that many first-degree graduates from other subjects will enter alternative occupations and then progress to become managers at a later stage in their career, once they have developed a substantial amount of experience and received training.

2. A significant minority are mature graduates

The majority of graduates who became managers six months after leaving university were aged 21-24 (69.8%). However, a fifth of recent graduate managers were aged 30 and above (19.5%). These were more likely to have studied management, and a higher proportion also returned to work with a current employer (35.8%), indicating that their qualification was undertaken as part of continued professional development (CPD).

3. Most have a 2:1 degree or better

Almost three-quarters of graduate managers in 2016/17 had a 2:1 or a first, suggesting that the top grades are not mandatory for these roles but they are desirable, with only 4.9% holding a third-class degree.

Graduate managers with lower grades demonstrated a stronger preference for self-employment/running their own business (18.5%) than those with a 2:1 and above (14%).

Those with higher grades tended to dominate management roles in investment/merchant banking (83.7%) and manufacturing (81.8%), and four-fifths became officers in the armed forces (80.1%). Consequently, those with a 2:2 and below might struggle to break into these occupations. Roles with a greater proportion of these entrants included:

  • publicans and managers of licensed premises (38.1%)
  • residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors (41.3%)
  • leisure and sports managers (33.5%)
  • shopkeepers and proprietors - wholesale and retail (36%).

4. More men than women are managers

Males account for a greater share of managers (54.9%) than females (45.9%) six months after graduation. This trend isn't just limited to the most recent graduate cohort as the gender gap is evident at national level.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that from October 2017 to September 2018, a higher percentage of men (13.2%) were working as managers, directors and senior officials than women (8%).3 This is a longstanding issue that persists over the past ten years of data.

Even when women secure managerial roles they face additional barriers in progression. CMI found that 73% of junior managers were women, yet only 32% advanced to director level, and male managers were 40% more likely to achieve a promotion.4 The gender issue is significant, with women required to make up 1.5 million out of the 1.9 million new managers by 2024 target to create a balanced workforce.5

In 2017, 14 out of the 40 management occupations entered by recent graduates had a female-dominant workforce, which equates to around 35% of management roles. Those with a majority female workforce included:

  • residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors (80.9%)
  • health services and public health managers and directors (73.6%)
  • human resource managers and directors (62%).

Occupations with a larger proportion of male entrants included:

  • officers in the armed forces (84.2%)
  • production managers and directors in construction (83.4%)
  • production managers and directors in manufacturing (69.6%)
  • managers and directors in transport and distribution (67.9%)
  • marketing and sales directors (63.2%).

5. Four-fifths of graduate managers are white

Diversifying the management pool is a challenge for UK businesses. The McGregor-Smith review found that only 6% of the top management positions were held by BME individuals, despite the fact that 10% of the UK workforce are from a BME background.6

The latest DLHE survey found that 80% of new graduate managers identified as being white. Although the diversity challenge is a sector-wide concern, it is more concentrated in specific occupations. The largest majority white workforces were found in the following roles:

  • managers and directors in agriculture and horticulture (98.9%)
  • officers in the armed forces (95%)
  • publicans and managers of licensed premises (90.2%)
  • leisure and sports managers (88.4%)
  • production managers and directors in manufacturing (88.2%) and construction (86%).

Residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors (72.8%) and human resource managers and directors (75.1%) had the smallest majority white workforce.

Closing the gap is a challenge, but taking steps to eliminate unconscious bias and creating a more inclusive organisational culture could remove some of the barriers known to affect BAME applicants.7

6. Low participation groups lack role models

Encouraging and supporting graduates from low participation backgrounds who aspire to become managers is also important, as in the most recent data over half of graduates entering managerial roles were from the higher participation groups (53.6%).8 Only 11% were from the lowest participation background, implying these individuals may experience difficulties or confidence issues when entering these roles. Consequently, those who wish to pursue this profession may feel isolated by a lack of role models.

A greater proportion of graduates from lower participation backgrounds were employed in the following occupations:

  • leisure and sports managers
  • publicans and managers of licensed premises
  • managers and directors in transport and distribution
  • residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors.

Those from higher participation backgrounds were more likely to be working as:

  • property, housing and estate managers
  • officers in armed forces
  • marketing and sales directors
  • investment/merchant bankers
  • chief executives and senior officials.

7. New managers feel their degrees prepared them well

The majority of graduates working in management occupations (71.3%) felt their higher education experience prepared them well for work. Only 6.7% said they weren't prepared at all. Despite this, they need to continue to develop and strengthen their skills as 65% of employers believe graduates lack the interpersonal skills required to manage people.9

Ensuring graduates are well equipped with experience and knowledge for roles in management is crucial, as time wasted through poor management is projected to cost the UK £19.3billion annually.10

With 71% of firms in the UK reporting that they fail to successfully train first-time managers and 87% stating that recruiting key skills is a challenge in management, it's important that universities and organisations continue to work together to prepare graduates with the essential qualities required to fulfil employers' expectations.

This will be particularly important following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, with CMI's Management Manifesto highlighting the challenge of developing a skilled cohort of school leavers and graduates who are well placed to manage businesses and tackle productivity, in a working world where they feel uninspired, and struggle with the transition from education to the workplace.

8. Many stay with their existing employer

The jobseeking behaviour of graduates working in management is different to that of graduates in general. In 2016/17 the most popular route to employment was through a current employer (26.5%), suggesting businesses are making use of existing staff by enrolling them on a CPD course.

Promoting current staff is an advantage to employers as it builds trust and managers have a proven track record.11 Having grown and developed within the organisation ensures these individuals are perfectly placed to understand the businesses' requirements and what it takes to succeed.

Personal contacts were also utilised by graduates to secure managerial roles (19%) and the third most favoured method was 'other' (16.1%), although it is unclear what this category includes. Employer websites and recruitment agencies and websites, which are usually popular job searching resources, were less frequently used among these graduates.

9. Northern cities are popular destinations

Management roles aren't typically confined to specific regions, with organisations throughout the UK requiring supervisors. The most popular location for graduates in management was London, although this is unsurprising as the capital does account for 23% of UK businesses.12 Other favourable cities included:

  • Birmingham
  • Leeds
  • Glasgow
  • Edinburgh
  • Manchester
  • Liverpool.

Graduates were less likely to be found working as managers in Wolverhampton, Swansea, Wakefield, Salford and Bradford, and as a consequence employers in these regions may want to consider the availability of talent when advertising vacancies in these cities.


  1. Leadership for Change: CMI's Management Manifesto, CMI, 2017.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Annual population survey, employment by occupation, via Nomis.
  4. Leadership for Change: CMI's Management Manifesto, CMI, 2017.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review, 2017.
  7. Delivering Diversity: race and ethnicity in the management pipeline, CMI, 2017.
  8. This includes graduates in groups 4 and 5.
  9. Leadership for Change: CMI's Management Manifesto, CMI, 2017.
  10. Skills First: connecting employers, further education and training providers, CMI, 2016.
  11. Nine need-to-know management trends, CMI, 2017.
  12. Cities Outlook 2018, Centre for Cities, 2018.

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