Lack of graduate jobs threatens 'disillusioned generation'

If so many grads are working in jobs unrelated to their degrees, why send more people to university?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Some interesting new research out from the CIPD today: in a survey of 700 employees who graduated within the last two years, nearly 60% said they were working in a field entirely unrelated to their degree. The CIPD worries that we’re creating a ‘disillusioned generation’ – young people who have saddled themselves with piles of student debt, only to find they can’t get the kind of job they wanted. Moreover, if there aren’t enough decent graduate jobs to support the current level of graduates, why is the Government so keen to encourage more people to graduate?

Of that not working in a related field, only 21% said they done so by choice. 58% said it was because they hadn’t been able to find a suitable graduate job. Nearly a quarter had chosen to postpone entering the graduate job market entirely. And 28% said their degrees had failed to equip them with the necessary skills.

Now it’s worth highlighting that this presumably includes lots of Arts graduates, relatively few of whom will end up in a related field. Nonetheless, it does raise the question of whether a university education is necessarily a good thing. The Government certainly thinks so: it aspires to send 75% of school leavers to university, up from the current level of just under 40%. But if the jobs aren’t there afterwards, forcing so many of them to go into unrelated fields, why bother?

The CIP reckons there needs to be a better link between supply and demand when it comes to graduate jobs. ‘Government should focus on understanding the needs of learners and employers, as well as providing young people with better information about the realistic employment prospects and salaries typically available for holders of degrees in different subjects,’ it says (uncontroversially).

We need to be a little careful here, of course. It’s clear that demand for graduates is weak at the moment, along with the employment market as a whole – so it’s bound to be the case that recent grads are having a tough time finding relevant work. Equally, it seems likely that if Britain is to thrive as a knowledge economy, there will need to be more highly-qualified graduates entering the market in the longer term.

On the other hand, in the short term it’s also clear that the obsession with sending more and more school leavers to university is just creating a lot of very indebted temps and call centre workers. Having a longer term aspiration to create more graduates is one thing. But encouraging more people to take pointless degrees doesn’t do anyone any good – not employers, not the economy, and least of all the students themselves.

In today's bulletin:

Darling celebrates faster recovery after dreary debate
OFT slaps RBS with £29m competition law fine (why?)
Thorley calls time after nine years at the bar
Lack of graduate jobs threatens 'disillusioned generation'
Psychology at Work: Strikes, and the psychological contract

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