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The graduate labour market in Scotland

March 2020

AGCAS's new regional report on the Scottish labour market highlights the country's diverse economy and the various employment opportunities available for graduates

Over the last few years, there has been increasing recognition that there is 'no UK graduate labour market' and that each area of the UK is characterised by a unique makeup of graduates, average salaries, local industries, past histories and new economic strategies.

In such analyses, Scotland is viewed as a single ‘region’. In reality, Scotland is a large, diverse country that varies dramatically by area and is home to 5,438,000 people and 19 universities. To explore the realities of the diverse graduate labour market in Scotland, AGCAS, HECSU/Prospects and careers and employability professionals from around Scotland collaborated to produce a piece of detailed analysis using 2016/17 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education data into the graduate migration patterns, employment sectors and skills gaps in nine Scottish areas. The nine areas referred to in this report were created by combining local authorities. This has allowed differentiation between experiences of different institutions in context and a more nuanced view of the Scottish labour market, particularly outside major cities.

The national picture

  • Just over 95% of graduates from Scotland's universities are in work or study six months after completing their degrees. This is one of the highest proportions since records began and slightly above the UK average.
  • Even at six months after completing their degrees, high levels of graduates are using their skills and knowledge in graduate-level employment, with 73% of graduates working in Scotland in professional-level jobs.
  • The public sector is a dominant graduate employer in Scotland, with 31% of those in professional employment beginning their careers in the health sector and 13% in education. However, if hospitals are removed from the analysis, we can see that the remaining graduates are working in a wide variety of employer types, with 10% of new graduates working in microbusinesses and 34% employed in SMEs.

International impact

Every known type of graduate level job can be done in Scotland but each area has its own character, labour market and sectors, many of which are recognised at a global level.

Edinburgh ranks 35th in the annual listing of world financial centres, above Bangkok, Brussels, and Vienna, and is home to Europe's second largest fund manager, Standard Life Aberdeen. Around 33,000 (10%) of people worked in Edinburgh's financial services in 2017, including more than 90% of all Scottish fund managers. In Fife and the Lothians, the Midlothian Science Zone, a collaboration of science and business parks, research institutes, academic and industry partners, is Europe's largest concentration of animal science expertise.

In 2014, Dundee (in Tayside) was named the UK's first (and only) Creative City of Design by UNESCO and is home to the largest independent mobile developer in the UK, employing over 150 people. In a recent survey of the technology industry, Glasgow was ranked second only to Manchester as the leading technology sector destination outside London.1

In some instances, the unique geography and natural resources of Scotland directly influences what graduates do. In North East Scotland the presence of the oil and gas industries means that 10% of graduates are employed in engineering and building, double the national average of 5%. Due to its unique proximity to both rural areas and urban centres, over 120 environmental charities have made the Forth Valley their home, including many national organisations such as Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association.

'As careers professionals in higher education, we work at a unique nexus between these groups. We speak to our students every day about their hopes and aspirations, but also their fears and concerns, and help them take confident steps forward in a career path that will change throughout their working lifetime… We hope that this publication will inspire our students and graduates, and equip our influencers and decision makers with new and important information.'

- Shona Johnston, AGCAS Scotland convenor and head of careers, employability and enterprise, University of Dundee

New horizons

The report paints a generally positive picture of the future of the graduate labour market across the country. Many of the areas in this report forecast future economic growth and the creation of jobs, often supported by capital investment projects, such as City Region Deals and Growth Deals that are poised to create new sectors of expertise.

In the Glasgow City Region, growth is expected in business and public service associated professional occupations in the next decade, with an expected 4,500 additional workers required. Tayside seeks to be a key player in the provision of Scotland’s future energy needs with a new ‘energy park’ and an ‘eco innovation centre’ on the horizon. Experts in the Forth Valley estimate that over £640 million of private investment will be unlocked in the next 10-15 years, delivering over 5,000 new jobs in the City Region.

Ingredients for growth

But innovation and growth, particularly in new sectors, will not be without its challenges. The Glasgow City Region alone already has over 25 graduate-level roles classed as 'hard to fill'. Across Scotland, there are significant skills gaps in healthcare, teaching, housing and welfare. With an ageing population, reductions in public sector funding, stretched public sector services and continuing in-migration of older adults in many areas, these skills gaps are likely to widen further.

The forecasted rise in the construction industry in parts of Scotland over the next decade could see greater demand for graduate and professional-level jobs in areas including engineering, architecture and town planning. Whilst the need for engineers and related professions will continue to be strong, especially as decommissioning of oil and gas facilities and the development of renewable energy continues to grow, there will be a growing need for graduates and graduate entrepreneurs in biotherapeutics, tourism, IT and food and drink.

'This has been a great opportunity to start to give the Scottish graduate labour market the attention it deserves. We hope that the in-depth and regional examination of the state of the jobs market for Scottish graduates in this book will help to provide a much more detailed understanding of the many opportunities available in Scotland. We hope it sparks discussion of the ways we can all help to improve the opportunities for Scottish students and graduates, whatever it is they want to do and wherever they want to do it.'

- Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence, Prospects

Inspiring and influencing

Scotland has a long-standing record of valuing skills, knowledge and ambition, with high levels of tertiary education within the population and a strong labour market. Yet there are still reports of skills gaps and underemployment of some graduates in Scotland. We hope that this report will help universities, policy makers and employers to understand the makeup of the Scottish graduate labour market and develop a more nuanced approach to how we support graduates and tackle the challenges that we will face in the graduate labour market of the future.


A full copy of The Scottish Graduate Labour Market can be found on the AGCAS website.

  1. Global Investor Intentions Survey 2019, CBRE.

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