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Graduates and the UK jobs market

“Almost half of the UK’s recent graduates are working in non-graduate jobs, demonstrating that pain continues to be felt in the labour market despite the start of economic recovery.”

The Financial Times, today (behind a paywall). I’d add that this also suggests that some of the degrees that people have acquired – at some cost – are not marketable, and unlikely ever to be so. The whole idea that at least 50 per cent of the school-leaving population should go straight into higher education needs to be re-thought.

By coincidence, over at the Econlog blog, Bryan Caplan has this to say about the issue of “malemployment”. That is a term that deserves to be used more widely.

29 comments to Graduates and the UK jobs market

  • Astonished

    Both you and the FT assume that higher education’s sole value is as training for the workplace. This is a very narrow and impoverished conception of the value of education, but worse it is a conception based on a highly doubtful assumption about why people choose to pursue higher education. Do you have any non-anecdotal evidence that those willing to meet the cost of university share this assumption? Indeed, if this assumption were correct then those choosing to “invest” in a university education would, in the main, be very poor indeed at calculating what is in their economic interests. That is to say, they wouldn’t be very bright. I teach a humanities subject in a leading University and am amazed at how little students are interested in their future career – compared at least to how much they are interested in the exploration of ideas and the enrichment of their minds. Since the state no longer provides any funding to universities for undergraduate teaching, is your thought that the market needs to be regulated to ensure fewer young people spend their and their family’s money as they wish? What exactly is it that you are trying to say?

    Notwithstanding all of this, the data upon which the FT article is based is far from informative. It is a measure of what percentage of all graduates are in a defined graduate job six months after graduating. Postgraduates are not, nor are those who set up their own businesses, nor those who choose to travel or otherwise go abroad, nor those who are too busy to full in the survey about what they are doing.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Unemployed Psychology graduate here.

    I’m in the writing up phase of a PhD. In my case the problem seems to be I’m massively overqualified for the graduate jobs, but I’m not quite finished my PhD thesis so I often get passed over in favour of those who have done their Viva. And the real kicker is, at the levels I am well qualified for (that require experience or a Master’s level education), I’m competing with full PhDs for jobs, and again my unfinished PhD still counts against me.

    A general culture of “middle classness” also seems to be an issue. I’ve applied for jobs at my own Uni and been edged out by slightly better qualified external candidates. The attitude amongst my colleagues seems to be that being out of work for a year or two isn’t a big deal. They don’t appreciate that if I don’t find work soon, I’m going to start struggling to feed my children. For all the talk of class mobility, at postgraduate level you tend to be working with people who have no real experience of what it is like to have no money. Even those with parents who didn’t outright bankroll their education still knew that family would “help them out” if things ever got tough. As a result saying something like “I really need a job and am willing to do anything” falls on deaf ears. They have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Few jobs, coupled with a remarkably blase’ attitude to money and employment seems to be the major problem. I’m looking overseas.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Oh yes, and far too many people are going to University. I know, I’ve taught lots of them.

  • Sam Duncan

    Fair enough, Astonished, but the previous government’s policy of shoving half the population through university – and turning every technical college and polytechnic in the country into an ersatz “university” (many of which don’t even pretend to be anything other than production-line degree factories) in order to achieve it – was based on that assumption too. That’s the whole problem. Learning for learning’s sake is all very well, but it has to be paid for. The government thought it could massively expand the supply of university places and pay for them – more than pay for them, in fact – with all the extra cash all those new graduates generated simply because they had degrees. It was always nonsense.

    So yes, the whole idea that at least 50 per cent of the school-leaving population should go straight into higher education does need to be re-thought. The operative word in that idea being “should”. The option should certainly be open to everyone, but if they do so it mustn’t be on the promise that untold riches await them on the other side.

  • CaptDMO

    ““Almost half of the UK’s recent graduates are working in non-graduate jobs…”

    Are we to assume that “graduate jobs” are receiving compensation for sitting around thinking “deep thoughts”?

    What sort of “excellence”, or even competence, are we to expect from “half” of UK’s holders of certificates of attendance?

    For the US;
    Why do I need an 8 year “investment” (including gub’mint, and redistribution of other peoples assets-like “scholarships”, to refer actually sick people to “specialists”?(after checking their “payment credentials” of course)
    DO I REALLY need to “invest” in the delusional “credentials” of “higher education” to decide “We’ll try offering that model in PINK, with an extra “new and improved” button or two.”
    Well, to get past the “credentialed” Human Resources wonk, with an “assistant” to actually handle the
    heavy (paper) lifting and change out the water bottle of the office cooler.

    Even the oft touted “sciences” have their Engineers, mechanics, “administrators”, and “theorists”, that have produced some of the most massive failures know to man kind.

    Don’t even the HIGHEST(longest, steepest) levels of academia require a subsequent “apprenticeship” (by any other name)to evolve into something actually useful?

    I’d rather “learn” the basics WHILE getting paid to open mail and change the water cooler bottle.
    I’d rather garner “connections”, insight, and “diversity”, from folks MAKING money, PAYING people, and actually conducting a business, rather than spending “someone else’s” by establishing the eternal debt chains that apparently “half of UK (MORE in the US)graduates” have been duped into donning.

    Academia seems to have exceled in it’s campaign of “You want fries(chips, “insurance”, whatever)with that?”
    SO much so that professional “fairness”, “special” protections, and “social” justice folk have adapted to it.

    Or was it the other way around?

  • staghounds

    1. Astonished, anyone in the West who is reading this can get all the education he wants, without ever seeing a university, for no cost.

    Not a certificate or a degree or a license, but the education.

    2. People who make a living selling X think that everyone needs all the X they have to sell.

    That goes for the product “Education”, too.

  • jerry

    Have to agree with many of the previous points/posts.

    For decades, young people have been told that their lives with be totally without meaning or value unless they have a college ( university, ‘higher’ education etc. ) degree.
    Pure rubbish perpetuated by those who are paid to provide the degree etc. These ‘educators’ in many cases have NEVER had a real job themselves and seem to think that everyone can be handsomely paid while doing essentially nothing in a ‘termination proof’ ( read tenure ) ‘job’ while thinking ‘deep thoughts’ !!!

    Another myth is that somehow, immediately, if not sooner, after graduation that the doors of prosperity will magically open and in no time at all, you will have your own corner office, assistants, secretaries and all of the trappings of success.
    In other words, you will be hired into a career at or near the ‘top of the ladder’.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. You do not get hired for a career, you BUILD one, a day at a time, whether you start in the mail room or ‘flipping burgers’, and it doesn’t happen ‘overnight’ ( so much for the addiction to ‘instant gratification’ !! )

    Employers have also learned that a great many of these ‘educated professionals’ need to be educated !
    interviewer ‘How old are you ?’
    interviewee ‘Twenty-six Sir’
    interviewer ‘What have you done or accomplished ?’
    interviewee ‘gone to school since I was 5.’
    interviewer ‘Any thing else ?’
    interviewee ‘No, just schooling, I’m very knowledgeable !’
    interviewer ‘NEXT !!’

    Give me someone willing to learn, willing to work and just a bit of common sense anytime, instead of someone whose head had been filled with mostly useless mush and still thinks that he or she is qualified to run the world despite that fact that they have no actual experience doing ANYTHING except studying
    ( sound like anyone you know ? ).

    Most of these young people have been sold a fairy tale. In most cases, their parents have enforced that fairy tale.
    And now, reality has set in. You can get degree, at least over here, in almost ANYTHING and many essentially useless ( or worthless ) .
    ‘I’m sorry but your degree in ‘human studies’ ( or cultural development or …. another almost endless list ) really isn’t worth $300,000 per year even though you are 23 years old !!!!!!!!!

    I’ve stated before, perhaps here, –
    How many people outside of law or medicine ( both of which require passing of tests before you can actually use what you have hopefully learned and start practicing ) do you know who actually make their living in the field of their degree ??

  • Paul Marks

    The correct size (and type) of higher education can only be found by ending all government regulation and subsidies (such as “loans”) in this area.

    Central Planning and government finance will not work in this area – any more than they work in any other area of productive life.

  • Mr Ed


    Central Planning and government finance will not work in this area – any more than they work in any other area of productive life.

    I cannot help wondering if behind that statement there is a premise that central planning and government finance were ever intended to work at face value. The University non-science/engineering depts might be intended to be the Uruk-hai production lines.

  • How many people outside of law or medicine ( both of which require passing of tests before you can actually use what you have hopefully learned and start practicing ) do you know who actually make their living in the field of their degree ??

    Hundreds, but I’m an engineer in the oil industry. But most engineers I graduated with didn’t hang around in engineering very long.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Academia has its place.

    That academia is currently out of its place does not make academia an inherently bad thing. I know that the world is full of self made men who got their start walking uphill in the snow to t’bakery at 4 in the morning every day when they were 12, and they should feel very proud of that. But don’t take the self-congratulation so far as to claim that a non-technical University degree is worthless.

    Just recently I have been teaching groups of first year undergrads about Asch, Milgram and the various tricks that have been used in the past by authority figures to try and compel people to obey.

    I’d like to think that awareness of this is a good thing from an individualist point of view. That my classes are rather too large and that many of my poor students will be competing with my good students for the same jobs is a separate issue entirely.

  • JV, I’m certainly not the one to throw the baby along with the bath water. The big question in my mind is whether the days of the old classroom setting (and the costs thereof) are not nearly over, at least when it comes to non-technical fields, and possibly even to some of the more technical ones.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Let me fall back on an old proposal of mine: a tax on employers who employ workers with degrees; $1000/year per BA, $2000/year per MA and so forth. Let that be enforced for a few years and I think we’ll see a considerable drop in employers’ enthusiasm for unnecessary credentials, followed (for want of demand) by more openings for college students who want to pursue knowledge for its own sake – at considerably reduced prices.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    What they really need is to read the biographies of successful people, like Richard Branson and James Dyson, realise that Uni degrees are not the automatic path to a successful life, and become enterpreneurs and inventors!

  • bloke in spain

    Well I’d like to be a bit more convinced of the value of university education. But when you have journalists, TV panelists, politicians, talking heads of diverse varieties, all apparently the beneficiaries of university educations & all spouting complete & utter bollocks, there doesn’t seem a lot of evidence

  • bloke in spain

    Jeez! And then I read the Caplan link & all my prejudices are confirmed.

    “Bartenders with B.A.s will outearn bartenders without B.A.s. Why? Because bars, like all businesses, want intelligent, conscientious, conformist workers – and a B.A. signals these very traits. So given a choice, bars favor applicants with B.A.s despite the irrelevance of the academic curriculum to the job.”

    How the hell did he come up with that nonsense? Come on. We’ve all been in bars, haven’t we? The barman with the BA is the sullen sod who thinks he’s too good for the job, too good for the bar & too good for the people he’s serving the drinks to. We’ve all suffered them. The good barman is the bloke who wants to be a barman more than anything else in the world.

    Writer must be another bloody graduate.

  • veryretired

    I’m astonished that some people don’t realize that obtaining an education in order to teach others about whatever it was you learned is very much an education specifically for the workplace, and, in far too many cases, of little use in the wider world.

    More importantly, it is long past time to recognize that the industrial school model is totally obsolete and needs fundamental reforms to it’s foundational premises as well as it’s physical and intellectual designs.

    Look at any film of an early 20th century factory mass producing a product on an assembly line, and then mentally substitute groups of students for the auto frames, and classrooms for the serial work stations, and it isn’t hard to visualize the next step of the teacher, as line worker, stepping up to the line to attach whatever parts are assigned to that station, or give the lecture assigned to that classroom, before the frame moves down the line to the next station, and the students shuffle out to their next class.

    My complaint about education is similar to the complaints people had about the crappy cars being turned out back in the 70’s, when the Japanese came in and ate the big automakers’ lunches—poor design, indifferent work ethic, and lousy quality control leading to a crappy product with poor customer support.

    I greatly admire teachers in general, and good teachers specifically, but you have been betrayed by an obsolete model and tragically flawed designs. Educational philosophy has devolved into a running game of 3 card monty, and way too many people have played, and realized they were being conned, for the game to go on much longer.

    I can’t think of another area where a little creative destruction would be better employed.

  • Greg

    So what are we trying to do: turn out technically competent workers, citizens who understand history, humanity and how what they think and feel fits with the span of it all, as well as the next set of truly competent teachers and professors who teach at the highest levels and in the best traditions? These are very different things, probably best served by very different institutions. Used to be in the US that a high school diploma covered much of what is now covered by a 2 or 4 year college degree. Simple solutions here I think: cut all government subsidies of education, including college student loans unless privately arranged, expel students from high schools who interfere with the education of those who are there to learn (send them to labor camps, god dammit!), and find ways to identify truly gifted and inspired teachers at all levels and empower them and reward them. I’m tired of excuses for slackers who get in the way of those trying to excel, perform, work hard, do their job, etc. Time to cut the assholes lose; set them out on the ice. A sure sign of our success would be seeing enrollments drop about ten-fold at the undergrad level: 90% of kids in college, in the US at least, have no business there.

    Of course, if you can afford it out of pocket, I don’t care what you study or how long you spend in college or university. In fact, if you are pre-disposed to spend lots of your young adult life there, I’d just as soon you stay on campus and out of our way!

    Sorry, but I’m in a foul mood for those who are taking from those who are trying.

  • Eric

    A sure sign of our success would be seeing enrollments drop about ten-fold at the undergrad level: 90% of kids in college, in the US at least, have no business there.

    I think there’s something to this, but I would argue the real problem is the terrible state of high schools. I’m shocked at how little actual education these kids receive compared to my generation. They have to go to college – when they graduate high school they don’t know anything.

  • bob sykes

    You need an IQ of about 115 to benefit from a college education. While half of East Asians and Jews meet that level, only one-sixth of whites and 1 to 2 % of blacks do. The rest need another kind of education or maybe just welfare.

    As to unmarketable degrees, bear in mind that STEM degrees can be unmarketable also. Universities systematically produce more STEM graduates than the market can support. In some disciplines greatly so; in the US about half of BS civil engineers never practice civil engineering, but into related jobs like technical sales. The US also produces about four times as many engineering PhDs as it can employ, but almost all the surplus are foreigners who go home. And even there, they might not find work.

    STEM jobs are also highly susceptible to automation, and much more so than many manual jobs. A generation ago, a surveying party con sited of at least three and often four men. Nowadays one suffices. I have personally seen the transition in a consulting company in the 70s. Initially, computerization eliminated much of the secretarial and bookkeeping staff, then the draftsmen and junior engineers began to disappear, resulting in much lower staffing levels even as the total amount of contracts increased. The financial sector produces far more output with far fewer employees than a generation ago, and medicine and law are beginning their own automation revolution.

    Automation reduces labor demand, and women in the work force and immigration increase labor supply, so wages must go down and unemployment must go up.

  • Gary Poteat

    Astonished said:
    “Both you and the FT assume that higher education’s sole value is as training for the workplace.”

    Unless you are independently wealthy, the ONLY reason for formal education is preparation for a job. A true education you can, and must, get on your own. Even if you have no need of a job, don’t go to campus looking for enlightenment. Personal growth and a love of learning are hindered, not fostered, in US universities. Indoctrination is the norm. Even though my degrees are in hard science, I decided against pursuing a Ph.d., despite several offers of financial support, because I didn’t want to deal with the politics and the insane environment of the university.

    If you wish to understand the universe, just read. Higher education in the US has been degraded to the point of uselessness to enable enormous enrollments of (paying) students that have no interest in learning and aren’t able to do the work. The idea that six years (as an undergrad) of blathering about inequality and social justice is a path to a lucrative career only appeals to ignorant youth and clueless academics. The humanities, especially the fine arts, have been destroyed by academics with much authority but no accomplishments other than hatred of the society that gave them lives of privilege and malicious envy of the great men that built our civilization. Even science has be corrupted to support the collective in return for grant money. A university can provide a credential but little in the way of education. Many good things will be lost in the fast approaching collapse of Western Civilization but the brainless and self-destructive set of diploma mills we call universities are not among them.

    Doing productive work is the first stage toward being a valuable person. Education should give us the skills to do good work and the tools to learn but knowledge and understanding come only to those that seek it on their own. The majority of real learning has always occurred mostly outside the classroom but today I think it only possible if you minimize your formal education.

  • Graeme


    How many bars have you been to recently where none of the servers had at least one degree, or was working towards one? In the UK, you need a degree to teach primary school children. You need a degree to be a nurse. The signalling thesis in Caplan’s study seems right to me. And of course, in London, the Estonian lady who checks you in at the hotel is probably a qualified surgeon back home. The Polish plumber might have a PhD. Etc

  • rosenquist

    You need an IQ of about 115 to benefit from a college education. While half of East Asians and Jews meet that level, only one-sixth of whites and 1 to 2 % of blacks do

    any proof of this? and are these figures for a specific country or worldwide?

  • …and Jews are white…sigh.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Alisa, maybe the Jews are included in the white total, artificially raising that I.Q. level?

  • Oh goody, it’s all our fault all over again, isn’t it:-O

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Well, I hadn’t wanted to raise the point, but you’re right- it’s all your fault! After all, if Abraham had not consorted with Hagar, there would be no Ishmail, and thus no Arabs! The Middle East would be a bastion of peace!

  • Paul Marks

    Nothing wrong with Arabs as such – indeed I wish Queen Zenobia had won.

    An independent empire in the east that did NOT include Greece (the loss of Greece to the Eastern Empire made the Western Empire too weak to stand on its own – when it happened long afterwards).

    I think an independent kingdom centred on Syria (then a land of traders) would have been tolerant than the Romans.

    Also remember that the Roman Empire was soon to undergo its own “fundamental transformation” (under the Emperor Diocletian – only a few years later), to becoming a nightmare state of ultra high taxes and the state trying to control every aspect of life.

    Perhaps, if Zenobia had won, the East (and the West) would have been spared this.