Employment rates of recent graduates
Data extracted in June 2021.
Planned article update: May 2022.
Employment rates of recent graduates (aged 20-34) not in education and training, by educational attainment level, EU, 2008-2020
This article presents an overview of European Union (EU) statistics related to the employment rates of young people (those aged 20–34 years) who have recently graduated from either upper secondary or tertiary levels of education (as defined by the international standard classification of education (ISCED)). It provides information on the transition from education to work and analyses the access to the labour market among recent graduates (those who have graduated within the last one to three years).
As one of a set of statistical articles forming part of an online publication on education and training, this article provides a complement to information on early leavers from education and training and young people neither in employment nor in education or training.
Employment rates of recent graduates
The data presented in this article refer to ‘graduates’ in a broad sense of the term, namely people having left education and training with at least an upper secondary level of educational attainment (ISCED 2011 levels 3 to 8).
A tertiary education or a vocational education increases employment opportunities
Figure 1 presents EU employment rates for recent graduates (aged 20–34) by level of educational attainment. It reveals that the highest employment rates (for people not in education or training alongside their employment) in 2020 were recorded for those who had graduated with a tertiary education (ISCED levels 5–8), while lower employment rates were recorded for those with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3 or 4). Note that recent graduates with a vocational upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (hereafter referred to as ‘vocational graduates’) systematically recorded higher employment rates than those with a general upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (hereafter referred to as ‘generalist graduates’). As such, it would appear that apprenticeships and other kinds of education programmes that equip students with the knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences required for a particular occupation increase the likelihood of recent graduates being able to find a job.
It should be noted that the indicator 'employment rate of recent graduates' presented in this article concerns recent graduates (in other words, those who have graduated within the last one to three years) meeting two criteria, namely:
- being in employment, and;
- not in any further (formal or non-formal) education or training (during the four weeks preceding the survey).
The proportion of recent graduates who are undertaking education or training alongside their employment – not covered by the above-mentioned indicator – varies depending on their level of educational attainment and this may influence the employment level of recent graduates.
The other aspect clearly apparent from Figure 1 is the increase in recent graduate employment rates as a function of the time spent since the completion of education. Again it should be noted that this may reflect falling participation in education and training alongside employment as the time since graduation increases, and not just increases in the chances of employment.
For all three groups of educational attainment, the lowest employment rates for graduates aged 20–34 were recorded for those who had left education or training during the three previous years, which reflects, to some extent, the initial difficulties that recent graduates have in finding their first job.
The employment rates at EU-level for graduates having left education or training during the last three years shows that for those with a tertiary education it was 81.5 % in 2020, while the corresponding rate for vocational graduates was just 6.1 percentage points lower. By contrast, the employment rate for generalist graduates was considerably lower, at 58.4 %, or some 23.1 percentage points below the corresponding figure for tertiary graduates.
Skills mismatch: tertiary graduates may take jobs for which they are over-qualified
Some of the differences between generalist and tertiary graduates may be linked to tertiary graduates deciding to take jobs for which they were over-qualified in order to get into the labour market, thereby boosting the employment rate for tertiary graduates while at the same time lowering employment rates for other graduates. This may be particularly important in those cases where labour market demand is subdued, for example, following the onset of the global financial and economic crisis in the late 2000s or, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benchmark target for ET 2020
While each EU Member State remains responsible for its own education and training system, EU policies in this field are designed to address common challenges, while providing a forum for the exchange of best practices and sharing evidence of policy initiatives within this domain that have been a success.
The strategic framework for education and training 2020 (ET 2020) had set eight education and training benchmarks to be achieved in the EU by 2020. Among these, one target was specifically related to the employment rate of recent graduates. It was introduced in May 2012 and aimed to see the share of employed graduates (aged 20–34 with at least upper secondary education attainment and having left education one to three years previously) reaching 82 %.
It is important to note that the target employment rate for recent graduates encompasses both those leaving education and training with at least an upper secondary or post-secondary, non-tertiary qualification (ISCED 2011 levels 3 and 4) with either general or vocational orientations, and those leaving with a tertiary education qualification (ISCED 2011 levels 5–8).
Table 1 provides a detailed picture of the latest information available for employment rates of recent graduates. It is based on graduates (aged 20–34) who had completed their education or training between one and three years prior to the survey being conducted. In 2020, the EU employment rate for this subpopulation was 78.7 % and thus below the benchmark of 82 %. This rate ranges from highs of 90.5 % in Germany and 92.2 % in Malta to lows of 56.8 % in Italy and 54.9 % in Greece; a low rate was also recorded in North Macedonia (54.5 %), Montenegro (54.1 %) and Turkey (53.0 %). Aside from Germany and Malta, there were 10 additional EU Member States where the employment rate of recent graduates was above the 82 % benchmark target set by the ET 2020: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Czechia, Austria and the Netherlands.
Development over time
Employment rates of recent graduates almost back to their 2008 level in 2019 but down in 2020
In keeping with the remainder of the population, recent graduates have been affected by the global financial and economic crisis in the late 2000s. Before the crisis, employment rates of recent graduates in the EU climbed constantly, reaching a peak of 81.8 % in 2008: rates increased for both those graduating with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, as well as those graduating with a tertiary level of educational attainment. Employment rates peaked at 76.7 % for the former and 86.9 % for the latter. Figure 2 shows that from 2008 EU employment rates of recent graduates decreased during a period of five consecutive annual reductions, but in 2014 this rate showed signs of recovery (up by 0.7 percentage points compared to 2013). By 2019, the EU employment rate for recent graduates stood at 80.9 %, just 0.9 percentage points below its relative peak in 2008. However, in 2020, with the onset of the COVID-2019 pandemic, the employment rate of recent graduates fell to 78.7 %.
Employment rates of recent tertiary graduates were lowest at 79.5 % in 2014 (which was 7.4 points lower than in 2008) but were up to 85.0 % in 2019, still 1.9 percentage points below their relative peak in 2008 (at 86.9 %) before going down to 83.7 % in 2020. Turning to recent graduates from upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, the EU employment rate was lowest at 68.4 % in 2013 (which was 8.3 points lower than in 2008). By contrast, data for 2014 saw an upturn for this subpopulation, as their rate rose by 1.4 points to 69.8 % and increased in 2019 to 75.9 %, only 0.8 percentage points away from the 2008 peak. 2020 saw a decrease of 3.5 percentage points, at 72.4 %.
In 2020, the gap in employment rates between recent tertiary graduates and recent upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education graduates was 11.3 percentage points, which was wider than in 2008 (10.2 points), but also wider than in 2019 when the gap was 9.1 points.
A comparison between 2008, 2019 and 2020 for employment rates of recent graduates is shown in Figure 3. As already described above, the employment rate of recent graduates exceeded the 82 % in 12 countries in 2020, compared to 19 countries in 2008. Of the 19 countries that already reached the benchmark in 2008, five countries never recovered to a comparably high level: Spain, France, Romania, Portugal and Cyprus. Five other countries had reached the benchmark in 2019 but fell short of it in 2020: Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg.
Disparities by educational attainment level
Tertiary recent graduates recorded the highest employment rates
The level of educational attainment plays a key role when recent graduates seek employment. Those with a tertiary level of educational attainment recorded the highest employment rates and were generally better shielded from the risks of unemployment than their peers who entered the labour market with lower levels of educational attainment. In 2020, the employment rate of recent tertiary graduates was over 90.0 % in Czechia, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Malta and the Netherlands. There were five EU Member States where this indicator was less than 80.0 %, although only two of these recorded rates that were lower than 70.0 %, the exceptions being two of the EU Member States most affected by the financial and economic crisis: Greece and Italy.
A comparison between employment rates for the whole population (those aged 20–64) irrespective of their level of educational attainment and employment rates of recent graduates shows that graduates generally benefit from the completion of their education. In 2020, Greece, Italy and Lithuania were the only EU Member States where the employment rate of recent graduates was lower than the overall employment rate, suggesting that new graduates faced particular challenges to enter the labour market in these countries.
While young people have in recent years faced increasing challenges in their transition from education into the workforce, Figure 4 shows that employment rates of recent tertiary graduates in 2020 were higher than employment rates for those graduating with a generalist or vocational qualification in all of the 25 Member States for which data are available (incomplete information for Croatia and Luxembourg).
In 2020, the biggest difference in employment rates between recent tertiary graduates and recent generalist graduates (among those aged 20–34) was recorded in France, where the former had an employment rate that was 38.1 percentage points higher, while differences of 31-35 points were recorded between these two subpopulations in Slovenia, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
Vocational education and training (VET) is a key element of lifelong learning systems, and the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience sets the EU-level objective that the share of employed recent graduates from VET should be at least 82 % by 2025. In 2020, this indicator stood at 76.1 %. Employment rates of recent vocational graduates were generally higher than those of generalist graduates. However, among the 25 EU Member States for which data are available, there were five where this pattern did not hold: Spain, Finland, Latvia, Greece and Cyprus. On the other hand, the gap between employment rates for recent tertiary graduates and recent vocational graduates was particularly narrow in Denmark and Germany where the differences were no more than 0.8 percentage points (in favour of recent tertiary graduates). By contrast, in Romania, Cyprus, Spain and Lithuania there was a considerably wider gap between the employment rates of recent tertiary graduates and recent vocational graduates, with differences of 21 percentage points or over.
Recent male graduates in the EU were more likely to find work than their female counterparts
In 2020, the EU employment rate of recent male graduates stood at 79.9 %, down from 83.3 % in 2019. The rate for recent male graduates was higher than the rate recorded among recent female graduates (77.5 %), as shown in Figure 5. Some of these gender differences may be explained by the nature of studies (fields) that are typically followed by the two sexes (for example, a higher proportion of science and technology students tend to be male) and by differences in labour market demand for graduates with different skills.
The largest gender gap for EU employment rates of recent graduates was recorded in 2008. However, with the onset of the financial and economic crisis, there was a sharp reduction in the gap between male and female rates. In 2009, the employment rate of recent male graduates fell by 5.0 percentage points, compared with a reduction of 2.7 percentage points among recent female graduates. This was short-lived as the gender gap widened again in 2010 and remained within the range of 3.6–4.9 percentage points (in favour of young male graduates) during the period 2010 to 2019. However, in 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this gap reduced again sharply to 2.4 points.
The gender gap in employment rates of recent graduates was present in 21 of the EU Member States and was most pronounced in Slovakia, Hungary and Czechia where the employment rates of recent male graduates were respectively 8.3, 9.4 and 12.4 percentage points higher than those for women; an even larger gender gap was recorded in Turkey (17.4 points).
By contrast, employment rates for recent female graduates were higher than those for their male counterparts in Austria, Greece, Lithuania, Cyprus and France, with a difference between the sexes ranging from 0.8 to 3.5 percentage points, a gap that rose to 6.4 in Luxembourg.
Source data for tables and graphs
The employment rate is obtained by dividing the number of persons in employment of a particular age group by the total population of the same age group. The indicator for recent graduates is calculated for the age group 20–34 and concerns those who had successfully completed their highest level of education one to three years beforehand. The term ‘graduate’ refers to any person who has left education and training with at least an upper-secondary or post-secondary, non-tertiary qualification or with a tertiary qualification (ISCED 2011 levels 3–8). The denominator for the ratio is based solely on those persons who were no longer in (formal or non-formal) education or training and hence excludes both:
- those who continue to follow their studies while working (for example, part-time jobs, seasonal work, holiday jobs);
- those who are primarily working but at the same time engaged in some form of education or training, for example, apprentices.
For the purpose of this article, graduates are defined as those who entered and successfully completed an education programme. The information presented refers to those students who graduated from ISCED 2011 levels 3–8. Graduates are only counted once, at the level of the highest programme successfully completed.
The EU labour force survey (LFS) provides statistics on employment rates of recent graduates. The LFS is documented in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.
Levels of educational attainment
Common definitions for education systems have been agreed between the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the OECD and Eurostat. UNESCO developed the International standard classification of education (ISCED) to facilitate comparisons across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions. In 2011, a revision to the ISCED was formally adopted, referred to as ISCED 2011. Prior to this, ISCED 1997 was used as the common standard for classifying education systems. Note that Eurostat statistics on employment rates of recent graduates have a break in series in 2014 when the first information collected under the ISCED 2011 classification became available; prior to this date these statistics were collected using ISCED 1997. For more information, see the article on the ISCED classification.
Note on symbols used in tables
The colon (‘:’) is used to show where data are not available.
Education and training 2020 (ET 2020) was the EU’s strategic framework for cooperation in education and training. It provides a forum for exchanges of best practices, mutual learning, as well as advice and support for policy reforms. ET 2020 has set eight EU benchmarks for 2020, one of which is specifically in relation to employment rates for recent graduates, namely, that: ‘the share of employed graduates (aged 20–34 with at least upper secondary education attainment and having left education 1–3 years ago) should be at least 82 %.’
Following CEDEFOP’s definition, vocational education and training (VET) can be understood as education and training which aims to equip young people and adults with knowledge, skills and competences required in particular occupations or more broadly on the labour market. Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training (VET) for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience calls for work towards achieving by 2025 three EU-level objectives, including the objective that the share of employed graduates from VET should be at least 82 %.
The overall state of an economy is also an important determinant for both the availability and the quality of job opportunities. With a downturn in economic fortunes resulting from the global financial and economic crisis in the late 2000s or the recent COVID-19 pandemic, graduates in the EU faced a range of difficulties when trying to enter labour markets, with persistently high unemployment rates and many graduates accepting work for which they were over-qualified or unqualified. Such a mismatch may result from differences between occupations and qualifications (a vertical mismatch), or from differences between occupations and fields of study (a horizontal mismatch); the former is generally more common within the EU (see also Skills mismatch experimental indicators).
Principle 1 of the European pillar of social rights states that “everyone has the right to quality and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning in order to maintain and acquire skills that enable them to participate fully in society and manage successfully transitions in the labour market”. Indeed, equipping people with the right skills for employment has already been identified as one of four priorities of the flagship initiative ‘An agenda for new skills and jobs’, which seeks, among others, to better understand where future skills shortages are likely to lie in the EU. The ‘Youth guarantee’ calls on EU Member States to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. Its main aim is to help tackle youth unemployment and to smooth the transition from education to work. The reinforced youth guarantee extended the target population to all young people under the age of 30.
To match the supply and demand of skills better, the European Commission launched an EU skills panorama in December 2012. This portal aims to help anticipate skills needs and improve the responsiveness of education and training systems. Furthermore, the European Commission monitors the jobs market, through the regular publication of a vacancy and recruitment report, a vacancy monitor, and a job mobility bulletin, which together provide a comprehensive overview of European labour markets.
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
- All pages on education and training
- The EU has reached its target for share of persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education, News release April 2019
- Being young in Europe today — statistical book
- Key data on education in Europe 2012 — statistical book
- Infographic Young Europeans
- Education and training outcomes (t_educ_outc)
- Employment rates of recent graduates (tps00053)
- Education and training outcomes (t_educ_outc)
- Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Transition from education to work (edatt)
- Labour status of young people by years since completion of highest level of education (edatt2)
- Employment rates of young people not in education and training by sex, educational attainment level and years since completion of highest level of education (edat_lfse_24)
- Employment rates of young people not in education and training by sex, educational attainment level, years since completion of highest level of education and citizenship (edat_lfse_31)
- Employment rates of young people not in education and training by sex, educational attainment level, years since completion of highest level of education and country of birth (edat_lfse_32)
- Employment rates of young people not in education and training by sex, educational attainment level, years since completion of highest level of education and NUTS 2 regions (edat_lfse_33)
- Employment rates of young people not in education and training by sex, educational attainment level, years since completion of highest level of education and degree of urbanisation (edat_lfse_34)
- Labour status of young people by years since completion of highest level of education (edatt2)
- Educational attainment level and transition from education to work (ESMS metadata file — edat1_esms)