University-leavers are getting “choosier” about jobs, with more than 1,000 graduate vacancies left unfilled last year, according to new research. It suggests that there has been a “noticeable” rise in the number of graduates who are turning down, or reneging on offers of employment.

Despite this, employers are planning to offer more graduate-level positions this year, taking the number of jobs available to its highest ever level, a study by High Fliers Research found.

The Graduate Market in 2016 report, based on a study of vacancies, starting salaries and work experience programmes at 100 of the UK’s leading employers, found that the number of graduates hired by these firms rose by 3.3% in 2015 – with 18,818 people taken on overall – although this was a smaller increase than expected.

In total, 1,074 positions were not filled, the study concluded, with the majority of these down to graduates turning down or reneging on offers, High Fliers said, and a relatively small proportion due to employers being unable to recruit suitable candidates.

Around 30 organisations reported that they had positions they were unable to recruit for and a further 19 said they had taken on fewer graduates than predicted in July last year, the report concluded.

“A noticeable rise in the number of graduates turning down or reneging on job offers that they had previously accepted meant that over 1,000 graduate positions were left unfilled last year, reducing the graduate intake at almost a third of the UK’s leading employers,” the report said.

It went on to say: “It is evident that the buoyant job market has had a significant impact and in a number of sectors graduate vacancies were left unfilled, either because graduates turned down employers’ job offers or because they reneged on offers that they had previously accepted earlier in the recruitment season.

“For some organisations, a lack of applicants for certain harder-to-fill vacancies made recruitment more challenging and at several employers, late increases to recruitment targets made it impossible to source additional graduates in time.”

Most graduate jobs have a start date of the autumn, with employers recruiting throughout the previous academic year, and students applying in their final year of their degree studies.

Firms are expecting to expand their graduate recruitment by a further 7.5% in 2016, the report says, the fourth year in a row that vacancies have increased and taking graduate recruitment to its highest ever level.

The study also suggests that work experience continues to be important for students seeking a job, with nearly a third (32%) of this year’s entry-level positions expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for the organisation, either through paid internships, industrial placements or holiday work.

And it concludes that graduate starting salaries are likely to remain unchanged this year, with a typical wage of £30,000, while at least a fifth of places have starting salaries of more than £35,000.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “For students leaving university this summer, it’s very welcome news that Britain’s top employers are recruiting their biggest-ever intake of new graduates in 2016 and will be investing a record amount in their training, development and starting salaries.

“But as the job market goes from strength to strength, it’s clear that our brightest graduates are becoming increasingly choosy about the employers they join and last year record numbers turned down employers’ job offers or changed their mind about an offer they had accepted during their final months at university.

“As a result, more than 1,000 graduate positions at some of the country’s most popular and sought-after employers were left unfilled.”

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