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Demand for graduates in the midst of Brexit uncertainty: trends to watch in 2019

October 2018

Technical and soft skills shortages were just some of the issues influencing the graduate labour market in 2018 but what can we expect from 2019?


This time last year, our predictions for 2018 were clouded by the fact that nobody was clear on what Brexit would look like. This year, we have much the same difficulty. Concrete plans are yet to be agreed upon by both the UK and EU, and those put forward - such as the Chequers plan - have highlighted the extent of disagreement within the government.

We will officially leave the EU on the 29 March 2019, entering into a transition period until the 31 December 2020, where Brexit agreements will be enacted gradually. This means that although the coming year should give some clarity about how Brexit will affect the UK graduate labour market, the uncertainty and disruption isn't over yet.

Interestingly, 2018's graduate labour market didn't appear to be negatively affected by Brexit. The number of graduates employed six months after completing their course increased from 2017, as did the proportion of those graduates securing professional roles.

There is nothing to suggest that this won't carry on in 2019. In fact, most authorities predict continuing modest economic growth and the robust graduate labour market strengthening further.

High demand for graduates

Statistics reveal that we are currently creating more graduate jobs than we do graduates. The images of students leaving university to sky-high debt coupled with unemployment are unlikely to be realised any time soon - especially considering that the number of 18-year-olds in the UK will decrease year on year well into the next decade.

Furthermore, skills shortages in several parts of the graduate economy mean that certain graduates are in especially high demand. Employers in primary and secondary education, medicine, web design and civil engineering are experiencing sustained difficulties recruiting graduates. This looks set to continue over the next year.

No longer London-centric

One particularly prevalent myth is that all graduate jobs are in London. Recent statistics from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey show that in 2016 21% of UK graduates found work in London, which is higher than any other area in the UK (Greater Manchester was second with 4.9% of graduates). However, due to the increasing cost of living in London, it has become a far less appealing location for graduates. Employers are recognising this and are beginning to rethink their focus on the capital, making plans to hire 'significantly more graduates and school leavers outside London'.1 As a result of this, 2019 could see an increase in graduate jobs in places such as Birmingham and Greater Manchester.

Rise of apprenticeships

Over the past year apprenticeships have benefited from increased awareness and support and some employers have begun to turn to them as a solution for hard-to-fill graduate positions. However, rather than this having a negative effect on the graduate labour market, apprenticeships have been a force for good offering more pathways into good quality employment for young people.

Cautiously optimistic

These trends are based on analysis of 2018's graduate labour market; however they are not set in stone. The outlook is generally positive for UK graduates, although an uncertain political and economic climate means a downturn in graduate employment is still possible. The jobs market appears healthy, but it is also changeable. Graduates - especially those without clear vocational options, or in areas with weak labour markets - will need to show adaptability and resilience to deal with the change. Fortunately, the evidence suggests they will be able to cope.


  1. PwC says recruits do not want to work in costly London, The Financial Times, 2018.

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