Professional jobs outnumber graduates by 1 million, report finds

Experts also warn the number of graduate vacancies is 20 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels and is likely to continue growing

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There are currently one million more professional jobs than workers with degrees to fill them, a report has found, suggesting graduates will be in strong demand as the current skills shortage continues. 

The report from Universities UK (UUK), which analysed data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), found that at the end of 2020 there were nearly 16 million people in professional roles requiring a degree or equivalent qualification. In comparison, there were just over 15 million people with that level of qualification, suggesting the supply of graduates was failing to meet the demand.

This was supported by figures from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), cited in the report, which showed the number of graduate vacancies was now 20 per cent higher than it was in 2019 before the pandemic, and that graduate vacancies were expected to increase by more than a fifth (22 per cent) in 2022 compared to 2021.

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The report also highlighted that graduate recruitment remained robust during the pandemic. The number of UK workers in professional-level employment rose by 647,200 in 2020, while those in other roles fell by 817,000. Similarly, ONS data showed graduates were less likely to be furloughed during Covid-19 than the workforce as a whole.

Professor Steve West, president of UUK and vice chancellor of UWE Bristol, said that a highly skilled workforce is “essential” for levelling up and creating “economic and social prosperity” in the UK. “It is important that the UK Government develops the right conditions for universities to fully support business growth and skills development for learners of all ages,” he said.

However, Kirstie Donnelly, CEO at City & Guilds, said the report raised the question of whether employers needed to redefine what was meant by graduate roles, arguing that the gap between the number of professional roles and the number of graduates could suggest that many employers don’t always need people with degrees.

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“[Employers] need someone with the right attitude and transferable skills – and these can be learned just as much from an apprenticeship or workplace experience as they can from a university degree,” said Donnelly, who called on organisations to champion a diverse range of skills in their recruitment processes. 

“It’s now well understood that diversity can help businesses succeed – and this applies to educational experience too. Ultimately, widening the definition of a graduate role to include people with different training and education routes will also help businesses to recruit from a wider, more diverse talent pool, and be more successful in the long run,” she said.

But, Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at Institute of Student Employers (ISE), predicted that demand for skilled graduates was likely to increase, and advised that employers to “continue to invest in graduate talent”.

This was echoed by Alex Hall-Chen, senior policy advisor at Institute of Directors, who said against a backdrop of labour and skills shortages, investment in skills would be a “crucial element” in the UK’s recovery.

“Demand for graduate skills among employers remains strong – particularly in transferable employability skills such as critical thinking, communication, and leadership – and the higher education sector will be an essential component in meeting the UK’s rapidly changing skills needs,” he said.