Do you need a degree to do your job?
It’s been widely assumed that increasing the number of people going to university can only be a good thing for individuals, employers and society. But, new research from the CIPD, on Alternative Pathways into the Labour Market challenges this belief. Their report suggests that for a significant number of occupations, jobs haven’t been upgraded to make use of the allegedly greater skills that people have acquired at university.
According to the research half of graduates are now doing ‘non-graduate’ – or low to medium skilled – work. The study found a huge increase in the proportion of workers with degrees across 29 occupations accounting for 30% of graduate and non-graduate employment, without a significant corresponding increase in the skills required for the job.
For instance, over 42% of entry-level police officers below the rank of sergeant are now graduates, compared to 2% in 1979, while 36.9% of new teaching assistants have degrees, compared to only 5.6% as recently as 1999.
Instead, apprenticeships are providing a viable alternative to young people who don’t fancy finding themselves £44,000 in debt after three years, when they could have been earning instead.
A degree may still be the right choice, but the Government needs to encourage students to look at all the options available to them, including non-graduate pathways into the workplace. Also, employers who demand unnecessary qualifications, instead of considering merit and potential, risk obstructing social mobility and inclusiveness.
The CIPD research highlights the need for the UK Government to focus on raising the quality of careers advice, creating more high-skilled jobs and improving alternative pathways into the labour market, particularly apprenticeships. Employers are being urged to review recruitment practices to ensure they are only asking for degrees when necessary.
It is of course highly premature to say that university is no longer a worthwhile investment,and a bit late for those who’ve already been through it. Graduates still earn more, their wage premium hovering at around 20% for those in their early 20s, and rising to 60% for those in their 40s, just as it was decades ago.
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