Government needs to end ‘conveyor belt’ approach to university and do more to create and promote high-quality vocational pathways into work
Research suggests that for too many jobs the cost of university outweighs the economic benefits, and that the prevailing rhetoric on the need to get more and more young people into university needs to change.
Successive governments’ preoccupation over the last 30 or more years with getting more and more young people through university is no longer justified given the employment outcomes for many graduates and the associated costs involved, a new report has shown.
The report by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, finds that, for a wide range of occupations which have seen significant increases in graduate rates over the last 35 years, alternative vocational routes into employment are both possible and less costly, with a smaller proportion of this lower cost falling on the learner.
The Alternative pathways into the labour market report is published at a time when the average student is now leaving university with £44,000 of debt and, even by the Government’s own estimates, 45% of the value of student loans will not be repaid. The report calls into question the continued focus on the ‘graduate premium’, with previous CIPD research showing that more than half of graduates were working in non-graduate jobs after they left university. Furthermore, Brexit makes it even more important that the UK’s investment in education and skills delivers value for learners, employers and the economy.
The CIPD’s research considers 29 occupations, which together account for nearly 30% of employment in the UK and over 30% of the work performed by graduates currently. It shows that, for many of these jobs, while the numbers of graduates have increased sharply over the period from 1979 to 2014, in many instances the level of skill required to do the job has not appreciably changed.
The report also suggests that, for too long, employers have been recruiting graduates into many roles that don’t utilise this level of qualification. Employers need to open up recruitment to more non-graduates, while also working to develop more of the roles that do require graduate skills.
The report, Alternative pathways into the labour market, finds:
- 35% of new bank and post office clerks are now graduates, compared with 1979 when just 3.5% of bank and post office clerks held degrees
- 42.9% of police officers at the rank of sergeant and below entering the police force now hold degrees, compared with 1979 when less than 2% of police officers of similar rank were graduates
- 41% of new recruits in property, housing and estate management are graduates, compared with 3.6% in 1979
- 36.9% of newly employed teaching assistants enter those jobs with a degree – as late as 1999, only 5.6% of the occupation as a whole did so
In response to the issues raised in the report, the CIPD is calling for Government to:
- Improve the quality of careers advice and guidance to young people while they are in school so they can make better informed choices about future career options
- Ensure that apprenticeship policy moves away from trying to simply increase numbers towards improving the quality and progression routes of apprenticeships, in order to create a meaningful alternative route to university for young people and employers
- Ensure the forthcoming industrial strategy has a clear focus on creating more high skilled jobs and progression routes at work. This requires an emphasis on raising the quality of leadership and people management, job design, and training and development through partnerships between government, employers and unions at a national, sectoral and local level.
Peter Cheese, CIPD Chief Executive, said: “This report shows clearly how the huge increase in the supply of graduates over the last 35 years has resulted in more and more occupations and professions being colonised by people with degrees, regardless of whether they actually need them to do the job.
“Governments of all colours have long had a ‘conveyor belt’ approach to university education, with a rhetoric that has encouraged more and more students to pursue graduate qualifications. However, with this research showing that for many graduates, the costs of university education outweighs its personal economic benefits, we need a much stronger focus on creating more high-quality alternative pathways into the workplace, such as higher level apprenticeships, so we really do achieve parity of esteem between the two routes.
“It goes without saying that the UK needs a world class higher education system, but this report really does provide a reality check on the assumption that continually increasing the numbers of people going to university truly adds the right value for learners of all ages, employers and the economy.
“Graduates are increasingly finding themselves in roles which don’t meet their career expectations, while they also find themselves saddled with high levels of debt. This ‘graduatisation’ of the labour market also has negative consequences for non-graduates, who find themselves being overlooked for jobs just because they have not got a degree, even if a degree is not needed to do the job. Finally, this situation is also bad for employers and the economy as this type of qualification and skills mismatch is associated with lower levels of employee engagement and loyalty, and will undermine attempts to boost productivity.”
Peter Cheese added: “In the current Brexit context, it is imperative that we take stock of the UK’s education and skills policy so that our current and future workforces can deliver the economic growth we need.
“To tackle this problem, policy makers need to improve the quality of careers, advice and guidance so young people have better information about other non-graduate routes into the labour market, for example, through apprenticeships. At the same time, much more needs to be done to reform the apprenticeship system which currently generates high numbers of Level 2 apprenticeships, equivalent to just 5 GCSE passes, with relatively few at Level 3 and above. Unless we have many more advanced and higher level apprenticeships, the apprenticeship route will continue to be seen as the poor relation to university.
“Employers also need to broaden their recruitment practices and ensure they are not using a degree as a means of screening job applicants for jobs where there is no justification in terms of the skills needed to do the job.
“Finally, government needs to ensure that its new industrial strategy has a focus on creating more high skilled jobs, which requires working in partnership with employers, representative bodies and unions at a national, sectoral and local level to improve the quality of leadership and people management, job design, and training and development across the economy.”
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