Around 2.5m workers too skilled for their current job, government report discovers

17 Aug 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Findings show businesses more likely to have overqualified staff than skills gaps

The number of UK workers who are overqualified for their job has increased to around 2.5 million – 8.7 per cent of the workforce – a nationwide government survey revealed yesterday. 

The most recent biennial UK Employer Skills Survey (ESS), which was carried out by IFF Research for the Department for Education, found more than a third (35 per cent) of employers had staff who were underutilised last year because they were trained or qualified to a higher level than their position required. 

More employees were overskilled for their position in 2017 than in 2015, when just 30 per cent of organisations said they had employees who were being underutilised. That year, the equivalent of 7.1 per cent of the workforce was identified as being overqualified.

By contrast, 13 per cent of the more than 87,000 employers surveyed reported skills gaps in their workforce in 2017 and 1.27 million workers – or 4.4 per cent of the country’s workforce – were identified as lacking the appropriate expertise needed to carry out their role.

These statistics represent an improvement on previous years. In 2015, 5 per cent of the workforce was identified as underqualified and 14 per cent of employers reported skills gaps. In 2011, the equivalent of 5.5 per cent of the workforce lacked the complete know-how needed for their job, while 17 per cent of organisations reported skills gaps. 

“The under-use of skills affects a considerably larger proportion of employers and of the workforce than skills deficiencies do,” the report, which was previously carried out by the now-defunct UK Commission for Employment and Skills, stated. 

Duncan Brown, head of HR consulting at the Institute for Employment Studies, told People Management that the findings, along with his organisation’s research, suggested “employers need to invest more in training and the right sort of training; and that HR functions need to do a better job in evidencing the business case for this and showing that such investments pay off, particularly in SMEs”.

“We need to continue to improve relationships between employers and education providers, strengthen careers guidance services and do more to encourage lifelong learning,” he added.

The most common skill felt to be lacking, both in 2015 and 2017’s reports, was time management and task prioritisation, accounting for 59 per cent of skills gaps. By comparison, the proportion of skills gaps pinned on lack of advanced or specialist IT knowledge fell from 27 per cent in 2015 to 19 per cent in 2017. 

The researchers, who carried out their fieldwork between May and October 2017, also found that three-quarters (76 per cent) of the skills gaps were blamed on transient factors, which were expected to be solved over time, such as the employee in question being a new hire or yet to complete their training. 

However, other causes included workers lacking motivation (a contributing factor to 32 per cent of skills gaps), performance not improving after training (31 per cent) and staff not receiving appropriate training (25 per cent). 

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which was published in July 2017, recognised a lack of jobs which match the country’s talent profile as a key labour market challenge going forward. In particular, the government-commissioned report highlighted that the proportion of graduates working in low-skilled employment had increased from 5.3 per cent in 2008 to 8.1 per cent in 2016.

However, a report published by the Open University last month discovered nearly all businesses (91 per cent) had struggled to find skilled staff in the last year, with skills shortages costing businesses £6.3bn annually in recruitment fees, inflated salaries, hiring temporary staff and training workers.

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