By Margaret Harris
I spent last Friday milling about with thousands of besuited young people and about a hundred potential employers at the National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition in London. My main goal was to sniff out companies or fields that are hiring physics graduates, so we can highlight these opportunities in the Careers section of Physics World. Along the way, I also talked to several recruiters and recruitees — and was even “recruited” myself by the Royal Air Force.
One big traditional physics employer, the nuclear industry, won my award for the most eye-catching stall at the exhibition: recruiters from nucleargraduates.com spoke to a steady stream of would-be workers inside a huge, grey, inflatable dome. Both dome and recruiters were there to advertise a new “umbrella” graduate programme with links to more than 20 companies and government agencies, and designed to bring new talent to an industry that has experienced a “greying” of its workforce over the past decade.
Although the Royal Air Force wanted me even though I’m not a UK citizen, other companies were less encouraging to the many non-EU graduates at the exhibition. Almost half of the stalls sported a large white sign with black letters saying “Unfortunately this company does not offer work permits,” and even some recruiters at un-signed stalls said they’d turned people away after learning they didn’t have the right to work in the UK. One recruiter from a financial services firm explained that because they spend up to £70k on recruiting and training a single graduate, they cannot afford to hire anyone who might have to leave after their two- or three-year work permit expired. “We get so many people who we know would be wonderful for us, but we have to tell them to go away,” she lamented.
Overall, however, such negative sentiments were rare. On a day when newspaper headlines outside were screaming recession, the mood inside the vast Olympia convention centre was mostly upbeat. One recent physics graduate from the University of Warwick, UK, said that in general, he was a bit concerned about the economy, “but I’m not looking for jobs in finance, so it’s not a big deal.”
Plenty of other graduates were flocking to booths staffed by big banking firms, however. The stall for Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) was mobbed for most of the day, for example, and one of their recruiters told me that despite recent bad news about the company (HBOS is currently being “rescued” by another big UK bank, Lloyds), they’re receiving more applications than ever — and yes, they’re still interested in physics graduates. Stay tuned for the return of the quants…