Uncomfortable truths and an overskilled workforce

by Paul Steer, 14 March 2016

An "uncomfortable truth"

The Edge Foundation (Edge) claims that statistics from higher education reports disguise the poor job prospects facing many graduates.

In a recent release, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) announced that nearly two-thirds of 2014 graduates were working in a ‘professional’ job six months after graduation, but Edge claims the figure is closer to 40%. In the report, The graduate labour market: an uncomfortable truth, Edge gives its own analysis which returns the 40% figure as an average of subjects.

At the centre of this disagreement is the definition of graduate employment. HESA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) use a definition of ‘professional occupations’ that includes both ‘professional and managerial occupations’ and ‘associate professional and technical occupations’. However, Edge believes that the associate category should not be included as entry to these jobs does not necessarily require a degree.

In their analysis, Edge found a very mixed picture for different subjects. In medicine and dentistry nearly 100% were in a graduate entry role, while this fell to 12% for creative arts and design.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • The need for good, clear information about all paths from school or college
  • The use of a single, consistent definition for 'graduate occupations'
  • The need for clear understanding of graduate job prospects to allow young people to make informed choices.

An overskilled workforce? – growth of graduates in non-graduate jobs

In an equally pessimistic report for graduates, the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development) claims that the majority of UK university leavers are working in jobs that do not require a degree.

The report found that 58% of graduates are in jobs considered ‘non-graduate’ roles, with the trend particularly strong in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The CIPD said the number of graduates had now “significantly outstripped” the creation of high-skilled jobs and says the report’s findings should be a "wake-up call".

The central question posed in this report is the extent to which the skills that graduates bring to their jobs could have been acquired more efficiently in other ways, for example through an apprenticeship system. HE expansion has been greater in the UK than in most of the rest of Europe and a degree has become a necessity for getting an ever-larger proportion of jobs.

The report suggests that there may be more costeffective ways (for both government and individuals) of preparing many of our young people for entry into the labour market. It calls on policy-makers to scrutinise the range of courses offered by the HE sector and seriously consider the social and private returns to them.

CIPD speculates that policy makers will conclude that, in many cases, public funds could be more usefully deployed elsewhere in the education and training system. The findings suggest that the presence of a large HE sector will not necessarily lead to the attainment of the knowledge economy so desired by government.

Paul Steer
Director of Policy and Strategy, OCR

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