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New Grant Thornton study puts North West top of the talent battle table

A new study by Grant Thornton UK LLP has revealed that the North West is outperforming other regions in combatting the ‘brain drain’ that sees many young people move to London in search of professional roles on graduation.

The research – which surveyed 1,080 university students from across the country as part of the Vibrant Capital Report – showed a distinct regional divide when it comes to whether university students stay or leave the area after graduating, with some parts of the UK losing the vast majority of their student talent post-graduation.

After London, where nearly seven in 10 (69%) of students who study in the capital want to stay and work there after graduating, the North West was the best performing English region, with 28% of students wanting to remain here.

Among the other regions, the East and South East were the worst performing, with 12% and 14% planning to stay. In the East and West Midlands, just 17% of students intended to stay in the region after graduation.

In addition, the North West performed well at retaining young talent at an even earlier stage, with 46% of respondents who grew up in the North West also choosing to go to university in the region.

When asked what factors were important to them when choosing somewhere to live and work after graduation, North West students followed the millennial trend of prioritising work-life balance over other factors, with 51% of students saying this was important to them.

Other findings included:

• Job availability was important to 43% of respondents, while 42% said they wanted to be based somewhere with good opportunities for their career
• 39% said being able to visit friends and family easily was important
• 37% said that the affordability of housing was a consideration
• 46% wanted to live somewhere with good availability of things to do (e.g. museums, restaurants, sporting events)

And while NW students certainly don’t think things are grim up north, they did have reservations about what life in London had to offer. When asked about their perceptions of living in the capital, 84% said that they thought the affordability of housing was poor and 77% said they thought it was a place where it was difficult to afford essentials such as food or utilities. More than half (52%) said that they did not feel it was a place where they would be able to live a healthy and stress-free lifestyle and 38% thought their work-life balance would suffer if they lived there. However, 62% conceded that there were probably more opportunities for career development in the capital.

The majority of respondents had a clear idea of the sectors they wished to work in post-graduation. Unsurprisingly given the strong science and pharmaceutical infrastructure in the North West, Science and life science was the most popular choice, with 27% wishing to work in these fields. This was closely followed by the media, the public sector and health and social care, with 26% wishing to work in each of these fields. Another 19% wanted to work in technology or telecommunications.

Discussing the research, Carl Williams, North West practice lead at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: “Businesses up and down the country and from every single sector are crying out for talent, so it is reassuring that the North West appears to be outperforming the other English regions when it comes to students wanting to stay here after graduating.

“What is worth noting is that it’s not just job opportunities and careers that attract the brightest graduates. They also want to live somewhere where they can enjoy a good work-life balance and in vibrant communities where there is plenty for them to enjoy in their leisure time.

“Certainly, the North West punches above its weight in this regard, and this is doubtless no small part of why we are retaining talent to such an extent.

“However, there is always more businesses can do to make their location and offering enticing for fresh talent. As we continue to see skills shortages across many sectors and the impacts of Brexit on the talent pool become more apparent, this will become an increasingly business critical issue and companies need to be thinking about this now to alleviate potential problems in the future.

“There’s also a clear role for higher education institutions to play in tackling this problem. Universities around the country need to be proactive in fostering stronger links with local businesses and creating a viable and attractive pathway for departing students to enter the local economy. This is especially important with tuition fees being where they are and universities needing to add as much value as possible for students.”