Improve vocational routes into work to avoid 'graduatisation', report urges

Enhance careers advice and guidance in schools by refocusing apprenticeship policy, says Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

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The government needs to promote high-quality vocational pathways into work if it is to avoid a "graduatisation" of the labour market, a new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests.

According to the report, entitled Alternative Pathways into the Labour Market, the proportion of new workers with university degrees in traditionally vocational jobs increased dramatically over a 35-year period between 1979 and 2014.

For a range of occupations, which account for almost a third of UK employment – including police officers and teaching assistants – the proportion of new workers holding a degree has increased, while the level of skill required has stayed the same.

In 1979, only 2 per cent of police officers at the rank of sergeant held a degree, compared with 42.9 per cent of officers of the same rank in 2014. Meanwhile, 35 per cent of new bank and post office clerks are now university graduates, compared with just 3.5 per cent in 1979. And 36.9 per cent of new teaching assistants entered their jobs with a degree when in 1999 only 5.6 per cent of the occupation as a whole did so.

According to the report the average student leaves university with a debt of £44,000. It is estimated that 45 per cent of all student loans will never be repaid in full.

'Conveyor belt' approach to university

In response to the report, CIPD has called for the government to improve the quality of careers advice and guidance for young people while they are at school – and to ensure that apprenticeship policy focuses on improving the quality and progression routes of apprenticeships, rather than simply increasing the numbers of apprentices.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of CIPD, 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 cost 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."

He added: "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."

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