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Attracting and retaining graduate talent with local opportunities

September 2020

By partnering with local research intensives and instilling a sense of purpose, regional businesses can ensure the local labour market is attractive to new graduates, writes Geoff Green, registrar and secretary at the University of Leicester

Following months of uncertainty, a crippling pandemic and the announcement that the UK is officially in a recession, there are now reasonable and serious concerns over the graduate labour market.

For regional businesses, this concern is amplified by the annual 'brain drain' that sees a significant number of university graduates leaving the region in which they studied in pursuit of employment opportunities elsewhere. A study published by Grant Thornton in 2018 found that the issue is especially prevalent in the East Midlands, with only 17 per cent of graduates planning to remain in the area following the completion of their studies.1

This means that even if employment opportunities are scarce, job vacancies must be attractive enough to dissuade local graduates from searching for greener pastures.

The University of Leicester has always had a focus on local community development. Founded out of a desire to commemorate the sacrifices of local Leicestershire people in the Great War, we take pride in our city, our community, and have gone to great lengths to increase the number of talented graduates who choose to stay and work in the city and county. We also have a duty of care to our graduates to fulfil their potential and secure employment opportunities that will further their careers.

However, desire or local pride is not enough to attract and retain talent, nor does it provide a blueprint for local businesses seeking graduate employees. Rather, businesses must do what they can to implement a purpose that entices graduates and must also collaborate with local research intensives to provide fulfilling employment opportunities.

77 per cent of adults would consider a company's purpose before applying for an available role

Meaning matters

A decade ago, a business' purpose could be summed up very succinctly: generate profitability and growth. Now, a business' purpose is defined by the values it stands for and has become a critical recruitment tool, particularly for those looking to attract millennial and 'Gen Z' graduates.

An oft-cited report from Deloitte predicted that by 2025, 75 per cent of employees will be made up of millennials.2 The report added that millennials 'want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society'.

This sentiment is supported by a 2019 Glassdoor survey that that stated 77 per cent of adults would consider a company's purpose before applying for an available role.3

At the University of Leicester, we have instilled an identity and ethos that underlines our purpose as 'Citizens of Change'. We have fostered a culture of mission-based research that makes a positive difference locally, nationally and globally. This refocusing of our identity as agents of change has been embraced by our students, graduates, educators and researchers, and our success as a research institution is thanks to their ambition to better themselves, as well as the world.

It is therefore integral that businesses can define what their purpose is, outline what their commitment to the greater good will be and offer graduates the opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

Collaborate locally to achieve a common goal

Aside from instilling a positive purpose, businesses must collaborate with local universities to generate new employment opportunities. The University of Leicester has an award-winning Employer Engagement Strategy that connects graduates to the roles that are best suited for them, and also has an award that is offered to every student in their first semester to help develop a talent pipeline into our graduate programme.4 However, local investment is vital to ensure these opportunities are available.

The University of Leicester is committed to investing locally to further the employment opportunities of our graduates. For example, we are collaborating with local and national governments, as well as private and public investors, to build a state-of-the-art space research facility. Space Park Leicester will be a world-leading hub for space research and a global leading centre for the translation of earth observation data into commercial applications and services for businesses.

Not only will Space Park Leicester support industrial growth in the sector and provide a financial boon to the local economy, it will also provide tremendous opportunities for graduates to remain in the region and work with some of the most significant organisations on the planet, such as Hewlett-Packard, Amazon and Airbus.5 Most importantly, it will have a core tenant of inclusivity by fostering employment opportunities across attainment levels, ensuring that graduates can fulfil their ambitions here in Leicester.

For businesses looking to attract the best and brightest graduates, get in touch with your local university to get an understanding of what research and expertise it offers. Familiarise yourself with any local university incubators and offer to collaborate. Lastly, ensure that your purpose is aligned to the ambition and aspirations of new graduates.


  1. UK regions struggling to retain young talent, Grant Thornton, 2018.
  2. Big demands and high expectations The Deloitte Millennial Survey, Deloitte, 2014.
  3. Mission & Culture Survey 2019, Glassdoor, 2019.
  4. Top employers target Leicester's graduate high-fliers, University of Leicester, 2019.
  5. Airbus Intelligence relocating to Space Park Leicester, University of Leicester, 2019.

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