Education to Employment Education to Employment

Section 2: Who are graduate employers and what are their needs?

This section provides a brief description of graduate employers and an explanation of their specific needs. This section will help understand how these employers can be better engaged to recruit graduates with disability.

Who are graduate employers?

A graduate employer is an organisation which specifically sets out to recruit graduates of tertiary education (vocational education and training or university).

On average graduate employers surveyed in 2009 employed 1.6 full-time equivalent staff specifically devoted to recruiting graduates and associated activities (source: 'AAGE Employer Survey 2010: Executive Summary').

More than half of graduate employers also have a graduate program to support and develop their graduates on entry operating for 2-3 years (source: 'AAGE Employer Survey 2010: Executive Summary').

Graduate employers can be small, medium or large and are present in almost all areas of business and government.

Graduate employment opportunities vary greatly depending on the industry profile and company.

The Australian Association of Graduate Employers (or AAGE) is a not-for-profit body which represents the industry of graduate employers and has over 300 members across Australia. The AAGE website shows a list of members, which indicates the types of Australian graduate employers (see where can I find more information section).

The Australian Graduate Careers publication 'Graduate Opportunities' or 'GO', also gives a list of graduate employers, including a comparison of a range of employer features, including those with a specific program for graduates with disability (see where can I find more information section).

What are graduate employers looking for?

First of all, graduate employers are looking for recruits that will operate on a higher, professional and technically skilled level suitable for their industry, compared to people employed in non-graduate employment.

Recent surveys of graduate employers showed that they are also searching for graduates who:

  • have excellent interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills above all other skills and attributes;
  • are the 'right' fit for the specific industry and jobs being filled;
  • show an employment history in their resume indicating previous work experience;
  • are likely to stay with the employer for the long-term;
  • demonstrate enthusiasm and initiative; and
  • have a positive attitude.

Some of the key challenges for graduate employers when recruiting graduates are

  • getting a sound return on the level of money invested in graduate recruitment (in 2009, surveyed graduate employers spent an average $6300 in recruitment and selection costs per new recruit) and development (more than 20% of surveyed employers spent over $10,000 per graduate in training and development);
  • High attrition rates which result in 1 in every 10 graduate recruits leaving within the first year and almost 50% leaving within 5 years; and
  • Competition from other organisations to recruit graduates (particularly in industries with skill shortages) to the extent that 89% of surveyed graduate employers cited competition as one of biggest single challenges in graduate recruitment with 31% stating they were unable to recruit the number of graduates needed.

(Sources: 'AAGE Employer Survey 2010: Executive Summary' by Australian Association of Graduate Employers; and 'Graduate Outlook 2009: A Snapshot' by Graduate Careers Australia)

The good news and the barriers for graduate employers and graduates with disabilities

  • The most highly valued skills: The good communicator
    • The highly sought after interpersonal and communication skills, and being a good 'fit' may be the attributes that a graduate employer most fears a graduate with disability would not possess. However, employees with disabilities often have more highly developed communication and problem solving skills than their peers. This may be due to their life experiences, and having to communicate and relate to others to overcome social stigma and/or to seek support and assistance
    • Making contact with a graduate employer early and even offering to meet the graduate recruiter in-person may be a useful way for a graduate with disability to show case their high level interpersonal and communication skills
    • If the areas of interpersonal, communication or team work skills are those affected by the person's disability, it is important to identify this early and get some skill building activities in place to help boost the student/graduate's abilities.
  • Return on investment
    • Graduate employers facing the challenge of getting value for money against high attrition will be pleased to hear that employees with disability have shown to generally have greater loyalty to their employers and longer tenure (especially when their disability-support needs are reasonably met). However, there is a common employer misconception that employees with disability cost the organisation significantly. This factor could have even bigger affect in graduate employment where large resources are spent to attract, support and develop graduates. It is therefore vital for employment and career services to promote to graduate employers the data which consistently shows that employees with disability generally do not need costly modifications or equipment (see Section 1 graduates with disability).
    • It is also important to inform employers that government assistance is available to help where substantial equipment or modifications are required. What are the barriers to graduates with disability?
  • Competition for graduates  
    • Graduate employers facing stiff competition and high costs in attracting graduates to their organisation are more likely to be impressed by a graduate with disability who initiates the contact with the business to demonstrate their interest in the company, skills and attributes. This highlights the importance of soon-to-be graduates with disability starting their search and efforts to secure graduate employment early.
  • Work history
    • Graduate employers very strong preference for a graduate with a previous work history can be a common difficulty for graduates with disability who have been less able to work whilst completing their qualifications. This places an emphasis on students with disability gaining access to work experience and/or volunteer placements during their studies and/or as part of their transition from adult education into graduate employment.
    • Some graduate employers have mid-year graduate recruitment programs. Where this is available and a graduate has no or minimal previous work experience, it may be worthwhile for the graduate to spend the first half year after graduating gaining some work experience.

Where can I find more information?

The Australian Association for Graduate Employers is a not-for-profit organisation run by and for graduate employers specialising in the recruitment and development of graduates.

National Associate of Graduate Careers Advisory Services is a national peak body representing career development practitioners and services in higher education. 

Australian Graduate Careers is an organisation that publishes information for graduates, graduate employers and career practitioners.


'GO' Graduate Opportunities 2010 by Australian Graduate Careers

'AAGE's Employer Survey 2009 Executive Summary' by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers

'Graduate Outlook 2009: A Snapshot' by Graduate Careers Australia in 2010