Graduates, employment and SMEs - Business Works
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Graduates, employment and SMEs

Luis Juste, Director, Santander Universities UK Just one in eight (12%) university students currently studying in the UK placed working for a small or medium-sized business (SME) as their top career choice, according to new research from Santander UK. This is despite the fact that UK SMEs are responsible for more than 59% of private sector employment and that a quarter of graduates are employed by an SME. The top choices from current students were to continue their education (26%); work for a large corporation 16%; and a career in the public sector (16%).

According to the research, which sought to gain a better understanding of student perceptions and graduate attitudes towards the UK job market, around one in four students (23%) were unaware of the opportunities of working for an SME. However, it appears that students are more likely to consider working for a small business as they get nearer to graduation, with 14% of students in their final year saying they considered this an option, compared to 7% in their first year. Additionally, nearly half (47%) of students believe that SMEs do not offer sufficient job security and 44% state they perceive working for an SME would not give them a sufficient career path or opportunities for progression.

Students from Northern Ireland most passionate about SMEs - those from London the least

On a regional basis, students in Northern Ireland are the most passionate about working for an SME, with more than one-in-five (21%) stating it would be the most desirable career option on leaving university closely followed by the East Midlands (20%). The same cannot be said for students at universities in London which came last in the league and where only 8% put working for an SME as their first choice of career.

However, working for an SME does hold a number of attractions for students, who stated that the salary (51%) followed by the variety of experience on offer (50%); the particular industry (37%); an opportunity to travel (33%); and promotion opportunities (31%) were the most attractive advantages of working for a small business.


The research revealed a quarter of graduates (25%) are currently employed by a small firm, indicating that significant numbers of university leavers do end up working for an SME. Wales and the South West had the highest proportion (31%) of graduates working for SMEs, with London close behind (29%) and the West Midlands with the lowest number of graduate SME employees (18%). The majority of graduates working for small businesses worked for companies in the third sector (64%). Large corporations remain a high employer of graduates though, with 30% of respondents saying they work for a large company.

36% don't start job hunting until after they finish university

When asked about how they found their jobs, more than a third (36%) of graduates did not start applying for jobs until after they finished university; while one in ten (10%) said they do not currently have a job – a number that has tripled in recent years from 5% of those who graduated in 2008 (5%) to 16% for 2012’s graduates.

"Our specialist team works very closely with 66 universities throughout the UK," said Luis Juste, Director of Santander Universities UK. "Together, we are passionate about helping students and graduates gain employment in these difficult times. It’s great to see that working for an SME is the number one career choice for one in eight of those polled, but we believe this could, and should, be significantly higher."

"The realisation that so many students don’t think about their job hunt until after they’ve graduated, combined with the number who are under the misapprehension of the career opportunities in a small business, underlines that Santander and our university partners, need to do even more to educate students about the benefits of working in a UK SME. We’re excited to be announcing such a big extension to our internships programme and are confident the scheme will continue to grow and help secure the much needed jobs for our upcoming talent."

"To help promote the advantages and opportunities of working for an SME, we are expanding our internship programme, run by the Santander Universities Global Division. Santander Universities was launched in 2012 and placed 532 students from the country’s top universities on three-month internships with SMEs across the UK in 2012-2013 academic year. Due to the overwhelming success of the programme, we are trebling the size of the programme and increasing the number of internships on offer in 2013-2014 to 1500."

The programme, a collaboration between the bank and its university partners, aims to encourage entrepreneurialism amongst graduates and to promote the benefits of working for an SME; whilst also providing the businesses with an injection of talent not always easy to obtain by companies with limited administrative resources. Santander funds 50% of the £1000 pcm intern salary and assists the businesses with project management for the placements.

For more information, please visit the: Santander Universities web site

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