Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Degrees of Employability

An IoE study today reveals:

A national survey of more than 3000 workers aged 20-60 published today shows that across the job market there are now more posts requiring degrees than ever before.

Although unemployment among young graduates has increased during the current recession, jobs requiring degrees at entry-level have reached an all-time high – over a quarter of all posts. Those requiring no qualifications fell to historically low levels. The proportion of jobs requiring intermediate qualifications has barely changed.

This could highlight that Britain has a higher-skilled workforce, but it could indicate something less savoury.

We read of massive responses to some job adverts (e.g. 1,700 chase just EIGHT jobs at new Costa Coffee in Mapperley Nottingham Post 19 February 2013) – just how are busy HR officials (or computer “filtering algorithms”) meant to prepare a short list?

In some cases (such as the Costa Coffee one) it may be possible to look for specific relevant qualifications experienced (such as trained baristas), but in many cases the filtering is more crude – you look for people with higher qualifications than you actually need.  You argue that someone with a degree will have more discipline and more life-skills than someone without.  There is then a danger that such jobs are designated a “graduate job”.  Likewise you start asking for Master degrees (some of which are decidedly non-masters) as a means of reducing down a set of applications from graduates.

This does not represent up-skilling of the labour market – it represents wastage of resources and talent, potential unhappiness and greater inequality.

  • Resources are wasted in subsidising universities and charging students to do degrees in order to become shop assistants (for instance).
  • Talent is wasted because graduates are doing jobs which do not use their alleged talents whilst those who have relevant talents – such as being personable diligent honest and having customer service skills but no degree – are unable to take jobs to which they are well-suited.
  • Unhappiness in that while “a job” (any job) could be said to be essential for a basic level of existence, a good “match of skills to employment” has to lead to greater happiness.
  • Inequality because we are falsely excluding the less academically able from the jobs market.

We may also be distorting the higher education system.  Is it really the job of higher education to train students (at the students’ expense) to do jobs that do not require higher level academic skills?  The market would seem to argue that it should; common sense surely argues the opposite?

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