More than half of employers still use degrees to screen job applicants, research finds

Experts warn emphasis on university and postgraduate qualifications could mean recruiters are overlooking candidates with relevant skills and experience

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Almost three in five (57 per cent) employers still mainly look for degrees or postgraduate qualifications when recruiting staff, new data from the CIPD has revealed. 

Following the findings, released today (3 August) as part of its Employer views on skills policy in the UK report, the professional body has warned that employers that do this may be overlooking jobseekers with relevant skills and experience, which should be considered alongside education levels.

In the survey of more than 2,000 senior decision-makers on skills, it also found that despite this emphasis on higher education qualifications, a third of employers agreed that university/higher education institute candidates are either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ poorly prepared for the workplace. 

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The report also revealed that many employers believed their workforce was lacking much-needed skills, with two-thirds (64 per cent) of employers saying at least some of their employees lacked some of the skills required to do their job effectively.

In response, the CIPD highlighted that employers should focus on skills and experience as well as degrees and other qualifications when considering job applicants, and should invest in a range of vocational training options to upskill existing staff.  

Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, said employers must stop thinking that university degrees were always the best indicator of a person’s potential at work: “They [employers] think they’re getting ‘off the shelf’ capability rather than assessing the specific skills needed for roles, then wondering why they have ongoing skills gaps.

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“While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, employers need to take a broader, more strategic approach to skills to understand current and future needs.

“This means valuing a wider range of experience and qualifications when recruiting for roles and understanding all of the training and development options available to employers to upskill existing staff.”

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said the CIPD’s findings “suggest that employers are still undervaluing the diverse talent pool available among the half of young people pursuing non‐university routes”.

He added: “That’s not good for social mobility and not good for future economic productivity. A viable alternative route of vocational education remains conspicuous by its absence in Britain. There are too few advanced apprenticeships, and not enough programmes for training and retraining of people coming in and out of employment.”

The findings came as no surprise to Paul Blackmore, divisional head of student employability and academic success at the University of Exeter, who noted the record numbers of graduate-level vacancies before the pandemic. He said: “As the market continues to recover we are seeing these numbers increase by more than 15 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The increase is not simply down to compensating for under-recruitment during the pandemic. 

“The constant growth in entry-level graduate vacancies reflects the changing nature of work and the requirement of higher-level and digital skills synonymous with those acquired through the wider university student experience, as well as the ongoing need for specialist technical and vocational knowledge associated with specific degree programmes.

“However, these same employers are not solely focusing on recruitment of university graduates. They are also increasingly targeting school and college leavers for their talent needs and to diversify the profile of their intake.”