New graduates struggling to find full-time work despite economic recovery

Recent university graduates are struggling to find full-time work despite the growth in overall employment, with one in five employed university leavers unhappily working part-time in 2017.

Although there have been small improvements since 2014, employment outcomes for new graduates are still significantly worse than than before the global financial crisis - despite a general employment boom.

But in the medium-term - three years after leaving university - almost 90 per cent of graduates were in full-time work, with two-thirds saying their degree was important or very important to their current job.

And in an encouraging sign, the gender pay gap for undergraduates narrowed to a record low of 1.9 per cent, according to the 2017 Graduate Outcomes Survey released overnight by the federal government.

Four months after leaving university, 71.8 per cent of undergraduates are in full-time employment. Photo: Rob Homer

Four months after leaving university, 71.8 per cent of undergraduates are in full-time employment. Photo: Rob Homer

The survey showed 71.8 per cent of undergraduates were in full-time work four months after leaving university - up 0.9 percentage points since 2016, but still well below the peak of 85.2 per cent in 2008.

The Grattan Institute's higher education analyst Andrew Norton said the flood of graduates created by Labor's demand-driven system, which increased university participation, had made the headline figures "worse".

But they also remained lower because historical skills shortages had been resolved, more people were pursuing further study and graduates were content to wait for better jobs, which they eventually found.

"Undoubtedly there is a much slower transition going on," Mr Norton said. "Four months out [from university] people are still holding out for a decent full-time job. It is not worth taking just any job at that point when you've still got your student part-time job to keep you going."

The subject areas with the lowest proportion of full-time employment after four months were the creative arts (55.4 per cent), science and mathematics (59 per cent), psychology (60.7 per cent) and communications (61.7 per cent).

In a finding the report's authors labelled "interesting", graduates in regional and remote areas were more likely to be in full-time work four months after leaving university (75.5 per cent) than those in metropolitan areas (70.6 per cent).

The survey also noted a shift to part-time employment, primarily due to the "relatively weak" state of the labour market since the GFC. Since 2008, the proportion of employed graduates working part-time increased to 37.9 per cent from 22.8 per cent.

Many of those people were not seeking more hours due to continuing studies. But a stubbornly high 19.7 per cent of all employed graduates were unhappily underemployed, with the highest concentration in the creative arts, communications, tourism and hospitality, the humanities, science and maths.

The gender pay gap for undergraduates dropped from 6.4 per cent to 1.9 per cent - the lowest in 40 years of records. But for people who finished postgraduate degrees by coursework, the gender pay gap actually widened to $15,000, or 19.7 per cent.

The survey, published by the federal Department of Education, was based on 121,000 responses from graduates of Australian universities and other tertiary institutions. In addition to employment outcomes, it also measures students' satisfaction with their courses.

In 2017, the subjects with the course areas with the lowest level of satisfaction were computing, IT and engineering, though satisfaction for all study areas still exceeded 70 per cent. Only in engineering did fewer than 50 per cent of university leavers rate their teachers positively.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said future students should use the data to make a better informed choice about their studies.

This story New graduates struggling to find full-time work despite economic recovery first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.