A third of graduates are overqualified for their roles, report finds

As many university leavers feel ‘stuck’ in jobs, experts call for a ‘fundamental rethink’ on UK skills policy

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Over a third (36 per cent) of graduates are overqualified or “stuck” in low-skilled roles, a report has found. 

CIPD analysis of official data found that conversely, just under a third (27 per cent) of those without a degree qualification said they felt overqualified. 

The report, What is the scale and impact of graduate overqualification in the UK?, revealed that of the overqualified graduates, 54 per cent reported being satisfied with their jobs compared to three-quarters (72 per cent) of well-matched graduates.

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Blake Henegan, managing director at Optimus Learning Services, said it was concerning that graduates are becoming “stuck” in roles where they feel overqualified, but employers can take steps to make their roles more meaningful and appealing. He added: “investment in a graduate can be rewarding for both parties once they’ve got through the initial stages or are able to progress to more skilled and enjoyable work.”

The report, which analysed figures from the Office for National Statistics labour force survey comparing data from 6,000 employees from 1992 to 2022, found an increase in the number of graduates working in ‘non-graduate’ occupations since 1992. 

Additionally, those from “less advantaged social backgrounds” were revealed as being more likely to feel overqualified (58 per cent) than “advantaged” graduates (31 per cent).

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Lizzie Crowley, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said that as a growing number of graduates are in ‘non-graduate’ roles, employers also find it hard to retain and motivate their overqualified graduates, which undermines productivity. “There needs to be a fundamental rethink on UK skills policy as part of a new focus on industrial strategy, to create more high-skilled and quality jobs across the economy,” she said. 

Indeed, one-quarter of these graduates (25 per cent) said they would be likely to quit their jobs in the next year, compared to 17 per cent of well-matched graduates. Nearly half (45 per cent) of overqualified graduates said they did not get paid enough, compared to 28 per cent of well-matched graduates and one-third (30 per cent) said they earned less than £20,000 per year, compared to eight per cent of well-matched graduates.

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds, suggested that careers advice needs to improve to help young people make the right choices, and highlighted that there are other routes for young people to take outside of university. 

“Vocational routes such as apprenticeships and T Levels can open up avenues to excellent well-paid and highly skilled roles in sectors which often have huge numbers of open vacancies,” said Donnelly, adding that they give people the opportunity to “access training for a fraction of the cost or even earn whilst they learn”. 

However, Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said that any efforts to invest in workplace productivity and skills “won’t pay off” unless employers take action. “We need to redouble our efforts to grow the economy, encourage employers to invest in and utilise skills, and open up more ways for people to improve their skills throughout their lives, particularly through vocational routes,” he said.