Brain drain fear as firms urged to retain graduates

SMALL and medium-sized businesses in Yorkshire must develop stronger links with the region’s universities to prevent a “brain drain” with graduates leaving the region, a conference will be told today.

The Graduate Employment conference in Leeds will focus on job opportunities outside of the M25 amid concerns the spotlight on London creates unrealistic salary expectations among students and puts off smaller companies else- where from recruiting.

Martin Edmondson, chief executive of Graduates Yorkshire, a recruitment service which has organised today’s event, said smaller employers had a key role to play in attracting graduates and boosting the economy.

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He told the Yorkshire Post that 90 per cent of jobs in many regions were in companies with fewer than 20 people but warned that graduates were “disproportionately” applying to schemes run by big business brands.

“The key danger of policy makers only focusing on graduate employment in London centres on the distortion of expectations for graduates and businesses outside of London.

“The two most prominent graduate surveys, which get the most coverage in national broadsheets, focus predominantly on companies in the capital. This results in statistics suggesting the average graduate salary is in excess of £30,000, and that 80 or more graduates are applying for every job. Such figures are very off-putting for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) recruiting graduates outside London, who can neither afford those wages, or want to be inundated in that way by applicants.

“Graduates too, also can be disappointed when they find they are more likely to earn £18 to £20,000 a year rather than £30,000.

A new Graduates Yorkshire survey published at the conference in Leeds today reveals that more than half of the SMES questioned would offer a graduate a starting salary of £18,000 or less.

The poll showed just over 40 per cent of firms would pay between £15,000 and £18,00 while another 17 per cent would pay between £12,000 and £14,999.

The survey also shows that 87 per cent of smaller firms are planning to take on graduates in the next 12 months compared with 64 per cent in the previous 12.

Almost 80 per cent of the SMEs planning to take on graduates say they will recruit between one and four people. The main reason for not planning to recruit graduates was a lack of positions but a small number of firms also cited a lack of relevant experience, employability skills or graduates “unrealistic expectations.”

The survey also shows that while more than 90 per cent used to recruit through print advertising this figure will drop to just over 50 per cent while an increasing number of employers will use social media sites on the internet.

The survey carried out last month asked 185 companies ranging from sole traders to businesses which employ less than 250 staff.

The Graduate Employment Conference at Aspire Leeds in the city will see representatives from university careers services, small scale and large graduate recruiters and graduates from across the country discuss improving employability, jobs and growth.

Mr Edmondson said today’s event would give SMEs the chance to forge relationships with universities and have a say on the employability skills being taught to students.

He added: “Graduate initiatives from Government are driven heavily by association with big brands, companies who are often already recruiting lots of graduates. It is SMEs that need to be won over to recruiting graduates, and it is the growth of these businesses that will be most likely to stimulate wider economic growth.

“Both this Government and the last launched graduate-centred initiatives in partnership with big brands, and familiar entrepreneur faces, rather than working with established organisations in the regions, like Graduates Yorkshire, who have been working to encourage graduate recruitment in SMEs for more than 15 years and receive no funding for doing so.”

The conference will also see debate on how firms and universities outside of London can work together to stop the skills drain towards the capital and to effectively utilise the graduates who choose to stay in their locality.

The conference is being hosted by Gradcore, which owns Graduates Yorkshire. Gradcore is a social enterprise that works with universities and businesses to “maximise graduate employability”.