Quality of employer more important than quantity of pay

Graduates are earning more than ever before, but money is not the biggest factor in drawing graduate recruits, new research shows.

Just 4% of the 1518 respondents to a survey by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers nominated salary as the most important factor when deciding where to work.

Most graduates are attracted to the overall reputation of an organisation, followed by training and development opportunities on offer, and long-term career prospects.

The median starting salary for graduates is forecast to be $48,000 in 2008, about 25% higher than it was in 2001, and about 8000 positions are up for grabs.

Firms in the finance, mining and legal sectors top the list of high-payers, offering starting salaries of more than $70,000.

The survey, of 180 organisations, also shows university leavers are reaping the benefits of the resources boom and the national skills shortage, with the number of vacancies for graduates growing 11.2% in the past year.

“From what I can see there has been no better time to be a graduate,” says Tim Wise, research director at High Fliers, which compiled the AAGE survey.

But employers are in trouble. As competition for talent grows, many are finding it difficult to fill vacancies. Some 60% of survey respondents said they hadn’t filled all of their 2008 vacancies as at August and September this year.

Accounting is one industry that is suffering. Labour shortages have forced accounting firms to boost salaries by 13.6% for new graduates. Entry-level accountants are still paid below-average salaries, AAGE’s figures show, even though accounting firms – along with Federal Departments – offer almost 40% of all vacancies.

The National Institute of Accountants’ deputy head, Andrew Conway, says new graduates aren’t being underpaid. Rather, he says demand is outstripping supply and training institutions aren’t receiving enough government support.

“There is such a skills shortage in accounting, but it’s a strange situation where public funding for accounting-related degrees is going down. Governments at all levels should be doing all they can to encourage students into the field,” Conway says.

Conway says graduates flock to the “big four” accounting firms, so small and medium businesses are offering a range of incentives to attract applicants.

“Employers are very competitive – there are four jobs for every one accountant,” he says. “We’re seeing evidence they’re offering flexible working arrangements, impressive work facilities and resources, and training opportunities.”

Not all graduates will be earning mega bucks next year. Those in manufacturing and electronic engineering can expect starting salaries to drop by 5.7% and 7.1% respectively. Entry-level wages at state government agencies, telecommunications companies and transport and logistics firms are expected to remain at 2007 levels.

Marketing graduates are also at the lower end of the salary ladder, paid $3000 below the average graduate salary.


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