Sarah Warburton, Lecturer in Career Guidance
Each year several thousand students graduate from the five Birmingham based universities as well as across the wider West Midlands and Worcestershire area. This amounts to a whole heap of graduate talent and skills in the region. If you’re one of these recent graduates, first of all, congratulations. Maybe you’re about to start your final year at university. Well done to you too, you’re almost there! Inevitably at some point students face the whole “what career do I want to pursue?” dilemma. This is swiftly followed (or preceded by) “where do I want to be located for work?” Granted that for some, the answer to this will be very clear cut depending on career interests, life circumstances etc.
A recent HECSU report “Graduate Market Trends 2017” states that the most common group of graduates are those known as ‘loyals’; those who do not move from their home region either to study or work. As a fairly sizeable proportion of students at West Midlands universities are from the local area, surely this is good news for cities like Birmingham as it means the city gets to retain that important graduate talent. Or does it? According to recent reports and surveys, Birmingham is struggling to retain its graduates within the area.
As already mentioned, life circumstances and career options can influence where graduates choose to live and work after university, and which may mean that Birmingham is not an option. There may sometimes be the perception that London has all of the graduate opportunities (and yes there will always be a certain concentration of roles within certain areas e.g. political related jobs in London, the gaming industry in Leamington Spa etc). Maybe there is also a bit of stigma lying around about Birmingham still being the old industrial city with not much to offer graduates.
However, Birmingham can offer some fantastic early career opportunities for graduates (and all at a commutable distance from Worcester, Coventry, The Black Country etc). I would like to offer some of the reasons why it’s a great place to start a graduate career…and which have nothing to do with Birmingham having more miles of canals than Venice, or the fact that some people loosely consider Shakespeare to have been a Brummie!
1. A number of the national graduate schemes also offer Birmingham as a base location
(see they are not all in London)
Many of the larger employers providing graduate schemes do offer employment opportunities in Birmingham. This is certainly true within professional services e.g. PwC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG. FDM (large professional services employer within the technology/IT sector) has recently opened an office in Birmingham, HSBC has moved its headquarters to the City, and don’t forget Mondelez in Bournville, Lloyds Banking Group, National Grid, National Express.
The ‘Graduate Market Trends Report 2017’** states that a graduate is more likely to start their career in Birmingham than in the Square Mile of the City of London. This is for the first time since this data has been collected, and shows how the labour market in Birmingham has grown in strength.
2. There are graduate opportunities outside the financial and professional services in Birmingham
Many graduates may not want to work in the corporate world, or start their careers on a graduate scheme. They may want to work in the public or charity sector. Birmingham City Council is a large employer in the region. There’s also the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, and of course the NHS. Within the third sector many of the national charities are based in Birmingham e.g. The Princes Trust and Friends of the Earth.
For graduates wanting to build a career within the charity sector, if you’re willing to venture a few miles down the road from Birmingham into the Black Country, then there are many charities operating in the region. For aspiring teachers, in addition to the region’s universities and schools offering a range of postgraduate teacher training opportunities, TeachFirst recruit into Birmingham, as do ARK Teacher Training.
Let’s not forget that the region’s universities are often large employers in the area where they are based. They can offer some fantastic entry level career opportunities for graduates keen on working in non-teaching roles in the education sector; from student advice work, schools liaison and outreach work as well as marketing and event co-ordinator roles. A number of the universities now also offer graduate development schemes of their own.
Birmingham has topped the list of cities in the UK for the number of start-ups outside London***. Smaller companies and start-ups may offer university graduates alternative opportunities outside the typical graduate schemes, and which don’t always seem to be an obvious choice for those leaving university and transitioning into the workplace.
3. Birmingham has a thriving creative and media scene
It’s widely known that the BBC has a central location in Birmingham, but there is also a wide range of other TV and radio stations which may offer great work experience opportunities e.g. Heart FM, New Style Radio and ITV Central. The Creative Quarter in Birmingham is centred around Digbeth; home to a range of creative and digital businesses. At this point Birmingham has made it onto the shortlist for becoming the new base for the headquarters of Channel 4. If successful, this will only help to strengthen the creative sector in the City, and may bring with it many more opportunities for the region’s graduates. When you factor in the museums, galleries and theatres in the region, this opens up even more potential career opportunities.
4. Birmingham has and continues to undergo vast improvement as a city
Recent research carried out by PwC and ThinkTank Demos found Birmingham to be the most rapidly improving city in the country in which to live and work***. With the move of companies such as HSBC to Birmingham, the HS2 high speed rail project, and the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022, this will likely have a knock-on effect of creating a greater number of opportunities for future graduates within the area.
5. Use your careers service as a student and/or graduate to discuss the graduate labour market of the area
This is more a general bit of advice regardless of whether a graduate wants to work in Birmingham or not. As well as offering advice and guidance on making career decisions, as well as the practical process of applying for jobs and attending interviews, many careers professionals spend much of their time talking to and engaging with a range of employers, both local and national, to understand the work they do and what they are looking for in terms of experience, skills and attributes.
A conversation with a careers adviser/consultant, or engaging in the range of specialist employer events at your university, may help put you into contact with employers you may never have heard of before, and especially those that may exist outside the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list!
Careers & Employability supports University of Worcester current students and graduates.
*A special nod to the iconic quote from Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting as featured in the title of this article!
**”Graduate Market Trends, Autumn 2017” HECSU Report
**** Research carried out by PwC and ThinkTank Demos took into account a range of factors including transport, work-life balance, inequality and health, and income levels in 42 cities – found that Birmingham had improved the most in its 2017 Good Growth for Cities Index