The ideal seems straight-forward enough; go to university and then use the qualification land a high-paid, high-skilled job which will set you up for life (not to mention allowing you to pay off your student debts). However, the reality for six in ten university graduates is very different as they end up taking low-skilled jobs for which they are over-qualified.
With so many young people heading off to university, the problem is a lack of high-skilled work for them once they graduate. A new report says that the situation has hit “saturation point” and that many employers are even now asking for a degree for low-skilled vacancies, such as working in a call centre, bars, or coffee shops. While this is great news for employers who have a host of over-qualified employees to choose from, it is not so good for the graduates themselves, who are forced to take work far below the skill level (and pay!) that they had hoped for when applying for university.
Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that Britain has one of the highest levels of over-qualification in Europe – with only Greece and Estonia ranking higher for graduates working in areas for which they are over-qualified.
This situation looks set to be compounded by the sheer numbers of young people heading to university, with Britain having the second-highest rate of graduates in Europe – behind only Iceland. With a 54% graduation rate, the number of graduates in Britain easily outstrips the number of high-skilled jobs that they can do. While this is the case in many European countires it is “particularly pronounced in the UK,” according to the CIPD report.
The CIPD has called on the government to create a “productivity plan” to determine how these skilled workers can be better used, rather than wasting their talents on work that they are over-qualified for.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said, “The assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher value, higher skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates is proven to be flawed. Simply increasing the qualification level of individuals going into a job does not typically result in the skill required to do the job being enhanced – in many cases that skills premium, if it exists at all, is simply wasted. “
The problems are compounded by the levels of debt that many graduates will leave university with – since 45% are estimated to never earn enough to repay their loans.
Mr. Cheese continued, “This situation is unsustainable given that the Government estimates that 45 per cent of university graduates will not earn enough to repay their student loans. It’s crucial we as a nation take stock now of whether our higher education system is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations, and society.” He went on, “The government needs to ensure its productivity plan includes a specific focus on creating more high-skilled jobs and work with employers, particularly SMEs, and with key stakeholders like Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Growth Hubs to help build organisations’ capability to achieve this.”
Mr. Cheese also spoke on how more needs to be done to make sure young people are getting decent careers advice, saying, “In addition, efforts need to be redoubled to ensure young people who are making choices after receiving their GCSE and A level results can access good quality careers information, advice and guidance so they can make better informed decisions.”
While university can lead to a great career in a highly-skilled profession, that is no longer a given. And with more graduates than there are appropriate jobs for them, it is clear that there will be those who fail to reach their career dreams.
With vocational routes into work showing higher levels of job satisfaction upon completion than for graduates, and with many former university students forced to take work that they could have landed straight out of school, questions surely need to be asked.