Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), explains trends in the recruitment of school leavers - and the increasing importance of this group to the labour market
Government policy, particularly the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, stimulated interest in school and college leavers among large employers. The business benefits reaped by hiring people at an earlier point in their career has meant that school and college leavers are now an important part of the early talent landscape along with graduates.
The ISE's annual Student Recruitment Survey tracks how employers of tens of thousands of apprentices, and graduates, are recruiting. Covering all sectors, the data shows that employers continue to increase their investment in school and college leavers.
The majority of ISE members recruit school and college leavers alongside their graduate hires. This year our survey showed that the proportion of employers hiring this group is 68%, which is a 5% increase compared to 2021.
Employers have expanded their talent strategies to hire from and through a broader range of education pathways. By adopting this approach, recruitment teams can build diverse intakes to fill a range of different roles and talent needs.
Employers will hire more graduates this year, but the greater growth rate in school and college leaver vacancies highlights a sustained strategic shift.
School leaver market continues to grow
To understand the growth in the school and college leaver market, we analysed data from employers that provided data on their school and college leavers hires for both 2020/2021 and 2021/2022. This data suggests that recruitment figures have grown by an average of 18% in the last year. Next year respondents indicated they are planning to hire 6,293 school and college leavers, an increase of 28%.
As we noted last year, we did not observe a drop in school and college leaver hiring during the pandemic, and the market is continuing to grow.
By volume, employers will hire more graduates this year, but the greater growth rate in school and college leaver vacancies highlights a sustained strategic shift in the student labour market.
Competitive jobs market
Application numbers are an important indicator of competition in the labour market and fluctuating student behavior. We asked employers how many applications they received this year and compared the data to 2021 rates.
In total, respondents received 91,797 applications for non-graduate entry-level positions during 2021/2022 - a 3.5% increase from those reported for 2020/2021. This worked out to be 19 applications per vacancy in 2022, a slight decrease from 21 applications per vacancy in 2021.
This is considerably lower than for graduate roles, which received on average 62 applications per vacancy in 2021/2022, compared to 91 applications per vacancy in 2020/2021. The data reflects employer reports that school leavers are still predominantly focused on the university route. However, the data also demonstrates a competitive market for school leaver roles.
In the post-pandemic recovery phase, it is important to understand how non-graduate entry-level hires are distributed throughout the UK.
Reversing the trend from last year, there was an increase in the proportion of school and college leaver roles based in London, from 33% in 2019/2020 to 24% in 2020/2021, and back to 28% in 2022.
Other regions also had increased levels of recruitment, such as the South East (+3%), West Midlands (3%), North East (+3%), and the East of England (+1%). However, there was a significant reduction in vacancies in Scotland this year (-6%), and in the South West (-4%).
Employers are less confident about the quality of school and college leavers that they were able to recruit in 2022.
Satisfaction is declining
Employers are less confident about the quality of school and college leavers that they were able to recruit in 2022 than in 2021.
In 2021, 46% reported that they are 'almost always' able to recruit the quality of school and college leavers they need, whereas in 2022 the figure dropped to 20%. This is a significant decline, although a further 55% report that they are 'often' able to recruit the quality of school and college leavers that they need.
Apprenticeship roles dominate
The majority (88%) of organisations that recruit school and college leavers enroll them onto apprenticeships as opposed to other school leaver programmes. An average (mean) organisation enrolled 92.5% of their non-graduate intake onto an apprenticeship.
Among ISE members, the most common levels of apprenticeships for school and college leavers were Advanced (Level 3) and Higher (Level 4) which made up 28% and 22%, respectively, of all of the apprenticeships reported.
School leaver recruitment starts early
This year our recruitment survey also revealed a shift in when organisations run their recruitment campaigns. School leaver campaigns are running much earlier in the year, with most campaigns having opened at the start of the calendar year, running between January and March (40%). Most offers are made between April and June (54%) and campaigns tend to close between July and September.
Conversely, graduate recruitment campaigns still tend to follow the academic year, beginning in the autumn and closing in the spring/summer with the most offers made between January and March (36%). None of our respondents made any offers to school leavers between October and December.
This year's ISE Student Recruitment Survey shows just how important school and college leavers have become to the labour market, and to employers ability to fill talent needs. It will be interesting to see how employer behaviour evolves in comparison to graduate recruitment in a difficult economy and as government rhetoric focuses on vocational education routes.
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