Over-education in jobs is too complex to attribute to one matter

While it’s tempting to say there are too many graduates for not enough jobs, Chris Adcock argues the truth is more complicated and more positive

The latest ONS stats on over-education show that 16 per cent of all workers are over-educated for their roles, with the most susceptible being graduates entering the workplace after 2007, with figures showing a third of this generation are over-educated. While some might say that there are merely too many graduates and not enough jobs out there, the truth is far more complex.

Candidates’ changing priorities

Every day in recruitment we see how the UK’s working culture has been transformed. This has been especially notable with the influx of gig economy roles and the so called ‘slashies’, who work multiple roles. These new options have helped create a desire among some workers for greater variety, compounded by an increase in candidate emphasis on careers which provide work-life balance and lifestyle benefits.

No longer do employees simply look for the biggest salary but are valuing other factors.

There are those who are choosing this route in part due to rising student loans and house prices in relation to wages, which makes achieving goals such as buying the biggest house and living debt-free seem further away. Whatever the reasoning this switch of attitude is certainly having an impact.

This switch makes ONS stats, which show 34 per cent of those graduating after 2007 as overeducated in their roles compared to 22 per cent of pre-1992 graduating generations, more explainable. As the priorities of each generation changes, alongside changes to working culture, we see that reflected in findings like these.

What’s more, the fact that almost one in four workers approaching the tail end of their career (pre-1992 graduating generations) are over-educated means there could be yet more factors affecting this.

The midlife career change isn’t as rare as it used to be. With the speed at which industries are moving and evolving, many candidates are looking to future-proof their careers and ensure they remain indispensable by upskilling or side stepping into a new industry sooner rather than later. And these changes are often made at a time when apathy with their career is setting in and employees look to take on a fresh challenge and apply their skills in a new environment.

Many employers value the fresh perspective and skillset experienced workers transferring from another industry can offer – even if their academic qualifications aren’t directly relevant to the role.

Companies looking for more humanity

It’s not just candidates changing the workplace. Our State of Skills analysis found that across industries skills like communication and the ability to manage and develop teams are in demand. And as technology advances and the presence of AI increases in the workplace, more value will be placed on these 'human' skills to complement technology. The good news for candidates looking to transition careers is that these skills are transferable and could make a career switch easier.

One thing is for sure, ‘over-education’ is far more complex than an initial reading of the stats would suggest. There was once a time when employees had a ‘job for life’. That’s over, and we’re now living in a time when a ‘career for life’ may start to disappear too. And while the kick-back from re-starting or shifting career might mean that career progression slows, this could be willingly sacrificed for job satisfaction and security benefits.

For those entering the jobs market now, a first decision on a career isn’t final, but developing ‘human’ skills that bridge sectors and roles will be key for adapting to any turn a career takes. For the time being, these results are another indication that the way we work is changing, and both candidates and employers are adapting to get what they want from life, work and business.

Chris Adcock is a director at Reed HR