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Market Intelligence: Talent in Professional Services

The Market Intelligence workshop series aims to share and increase awareness of industry-specific opportunities and challenges with a focus on future-proofing the talent needs of local businesses.

Ideas collected at the workshop

Please note: Sources for all data cited in this article can be found in this presentation.

This support is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

On Tuesday 10 September 2019, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) hosted the fourth workshop in our series of sector-focused workshops, with Market Intelligence: Talent in Professional Services.

The workshop, delivered by Gradconsult, saw in-depth discussions and dialogue between representatives from companies in the professional services industries across Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2) on the topics of:

  • the state of the graduate market nationally and locally
  • key challenges for the sector over the next five years
  • the skills, knowledge and behaviours businesses need graduates to have
  • challenges faced by SMEs in recruitment and retention
  • how NTU can work with local business to help address the above and ensure our talent pipeline meets the future needs of the industry

The graduate market nationally

To begin with, data shows there are not enough young people entering the workforce. This leads to more vacant jobs than there are graduates to fill them as older workers retire. Brexit may complicate this due to a reduced migrant workforce.

However, at the same time, graduate unemployment is at its lowest since 1979 at 5.1%, and 87.5% of graduates are satisfied with their careers after three-and-a-half years.

In the UK, the graduate market is not regulated in the same way as other countries such as Germany or the USA, meaning the provision of university degree places is not linked to workforce requirements, creating a highly non-linear graduate market. This means that many graduates undertake careers in roles that are not directly linked to their area of study.

When considering their prospects, 48% of final year students are still undecided on their future career and are therefore open to influence from business.

While the perception is that a high proportion of graduates will be drawn to London, the majority (69%) actually go to work in the region where they grew up, with a further 13% moving away to go to university and staying there. What may be surprising is that London is the only city in the UK where there is an oversupply of graduates. However, business students have shown an increased willingness to travel for a job.

Additionally, despite a rising perception that degrees don't offer benefits in the same way they used to, those with a degree still earn significantly more than non-graduates over their working life, with undergraduates and postgraduates earning £10k and £16k extra per year respectively on average.

According to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2018 report, accounting and professional services graduates can expect a graduate salary in the region of £30,000 per annum.

The gender balance of business and administration graduates is 54% male, 46% female, compared to 42% male, 58% female across all disciplines.

The graduate job market locally

Some key facts about the graduate market in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are that:

  • there are a lower proportion of managers, directors and professional occupations available in both Derby and Nottingham compared to the UK nationally, although Derby fares slightly better.
  • Nottingham comes in at 7th-best UK city for disposable income when comparing graduate starting salary to cost of living
  • Derby tops the table in the same study, although this figure may be attributed to the increased proportion of high-value engineering companies resident in the area
  • the East Midlands has the lowest proportion of residents with a degree in the UK, leading to more demand for skills, but also creating a potential barrier to development and progression

To help attract top talent, businesses can apply and champion these positive messages through their attraction and recruitment of talent in the area, collaborating with NTU to help further advance prosperity and opportunity within the local area.

NTU has 5,749 undergraduate and postgraduate students on business and administration courses in the 2018/19 academic year.

Key challenges over the next 5 years

Gradconsult initially presented some challenges that their research has found to be true across the professional services industries.

  • Technology – many low-end and high-volume tasks such as research, analysis and comparison of information can be automated through tech and artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Development – junior professionals historically tended to start their career by carrying out the above tasks, so increased use of the above technology poses question about talent pipelines and career progression.
  • Increased competition – as new players enter the market in the wake of further globalisation and alternative business structures, an enormous increase in competition is expected.

The businesses in the room also shared their main concerns for the challenges that they are likely to face in the coming years.

What graduates want to get out of their job

Career advancement, money and flexibility were noted as Generation Z's most-desirable features of a job in the professional services by companies in the room. They also want to know more about the culture of a workplace and the option for flexibility.

Personal attributes

The most important attributes of new employees were cited as work ethic, social skills and confidence.

Businesses require employees that can fit in with the company culture and they need to have an ability to get on with, and be accepted by, colleagues. Strong communication skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence are all very important in this industry.

Commercial awareness was also highlighted as desirable, but it was accepted that this can be very hard to find.

Application and interview skills

Within company recruitment, the application and interview skills of graduates was highlighted as an area for concern. One business highlighed speculative or introductory emails from candidates as being of poor quality and that graduates would benefit from understanding the difference between business communication and that used in everyday life.

The role of NTU

The businesses agreed that a greater commercial awareness was important and felt that it may be useful for the university to offer a mentoring provision between a student and a business during their studies.

This will help identify skills and productivity gaps that can be resolved by the time they are looking for graduate roles.

Gradconsult presenting at the workshop
Group discussions at the workshop

Recruitment challenges

The businesses in the room also shared their own major challenges that they typically face when recruiting.


Businesses are increasingly keen to diversify their workforce, but struggle to do so. They are also facing increased pressures from external factors such as Brexit and wider skills shortages.

Lack of self-belief from graduates

Some businesses expressed a concern that some students or graduates don't believe they are are good enough for the roles that they are advertising.

It was suggested that workshops to help students find their voice in a safe space before entering the graduate market would be highly beneficial.

Lack of adaptability from businesses

It was suggested that some businesses may find effective recruitment challenging due to a lack of willingness to invest in, or adapt to, the newest technological developments meaning they are unable to compete or attract new talent.

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The NTU talent pool and how SMEs can get involved

NTU currently have 5,749 undergraduate and postgraduate students on on professional services-related courses in the 2018/19 academic year. These come from a range of degree discipline clusters including business management, economic and international business.

There is a range of postgraduate course provision including business administration and MSc courses in economics, management, fintech, human resources and supply chain management. The workshop presentation provides more detail about this.

Businesses can also take advantage of degree apprenticeships in chartered management and leadership. As an SME they may also be able to take advantage of 95% funding dependent on eligibility.

There are plenty of opportunities for businesses of all sizes to engage with students from NTU. A seleection of these opportunities include:

Work experience, internships and projects

8-week and 16-weeks internships which can be unpaid as part of credit-related modules.

Consultancy challenges

Group consultancy challenges where students are challenged to solve a particular business problem are run twice a year.

Personalisation modules

You can get involved in various undergraduate and postgraduate modules including transformational leadership, employability and enterprise.

To explore any of these options, or to access other support around recruitment, contact the Employability team at NTU at

Market Intelligence: Talent in...?

The Market Intelligence: Talent in Professional Services was the fourth workshop in the series to be delivered throughout 2019 and 2020.

The full programme of workshops are:

Workshops are invite-only, but you will be able to find articles such as these covering each sector on the NTU website.

How the High Level Skills programme supports SMEs

If you have any questions about any of the above, or want to enquire about engaging with NTU as a business, please get in touch.

You can contact us via any of the below channels:

Our Market Intelligence: Talent in …? workshops are delivered through the GRADS for D2N2 project. To find out more about this project and the wider support that NTU can offer, visit our website.

* The GRADS for D2N2 project is part-funded by the European Social Fund and is part of the ESF High Level Skills programme. The programme is delivered by NTU as part of the High Level Skills consortium which also includes Derby College, Nottingham College, the University of Derby, Vision West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham City Council.