71 % of recent graduates ‘feel underemployed’

Investment in L&D aids retention, says study; employers urged to understand what makes younger workers tick


Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of recent graduates believe they are underemployed, research out today has found, raising concerns that their expectations are out of touch with the realities of working life.

The 2017 UK University Graduate Employment Study by Accenture Strategy revealed that three out of five (60 per cent) recent university leavers were now working full time in their chosen field of study, up from 46 per cent last year

The study – which surveyed 1,001 students graduating in 2017 and the same number who graduated in 2015-16 – also found that 63 per cent of graduates expected to find work in their discipline of study, 54 per cent expected their employer to provide on-the-job training and 51 per cent expected some sort of formal training.


Accenture found that graduate recruits were three times more likely to stay with their employer beyond the five-year mark if their organisation invested in learning and development.

“This highlights a need for companies to understand what motivates gen Z graduates and provide a meaningful employee experience for them,” said Payal Vasudeva, managing director at Accenture Strategy.

Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, added that the findings should be a “wake-up call” to both employers and graduates, and “should really prompt HR and L&D professionals to think about the role that high-quality vocational education can play in this graduate pathway – which seems to have become a bit of a monoculture – and to really think about the skills of their workforce”.
According to the Accenture study, graduates’ salary expectations also failed to line up with reality. While 85 per cent of 2017 graduates expected to earn more than £25,000 in their first job, only 70 per cent of 2015-16 graduates achieved this.

However, graduates were willing to be flexible for a job that ticks all the boxes, with 83 per cent saying they were willing to relocate to a different city for the right role and nearly nine out of 10 taking job availability into account before selecting a degree course.

A separate survey run on behalf of the Department for Education, which was published last month, suggested that graduate employers value workplace know-how above a formal education. While almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of UK employers said relevant work experience was either critical or significant when taking on a new hire, just 46 per cent felt the same way about academic qualifications.

Meanwhile, just a fifth (19 per cent) of English employers said university or higher education leavers were ‘very well’ prepared for the world of work, although a further 60 per cent said they were ‘well’ prepared.

An earlier CIPD study, published in 2015, discovered that more than half (59 per cent) of UK graduates were in a non-graduate job.