Yesterday’s report by the Office for National Statistics that “31% of graduates are ‘over-educated’ for their job” has attracted a lot of attention, especially given the apparent conundrum that businesses are constantly complaining that people lack the right skills for the jobs.
The UK’s workforce appears to be both “overeducated” and “underskilled” (based on constant complaints about skill shortages) – which is a pretty bad/weird combination https://t.co/hm9QZCODUw
— Sarah O’Connor (@sarahoconnor_) April 29, 2019
There are a lot of issues here – including the question of whether the education system’s purpose is simply to provide trained labour for business; the consequences of the expansion of the university system; and even the philosophical question of whether it’s possible to be ‘over-educated’.
However, I want to concentrate on one factor which business has direct control over: recruitment. It seems to me that part of the problem is either laziness or ignorance on the part of those who manage recruitment.
The ONS report makes what I consider the same error as many businesses – to confuse education levels with skills. And as a result, we get what the CIPD’s David D’Souza describes as ‘weak signals’ in the labour market.
Too many recruiters will simply add in the phrase “degree-level educated” as an easy way to sift candidates, without even thinking about whether the skills or knowledge a degree brings are relevant to the job being advertised.
Take for example a recent job I saw advertised, for a Project Manager. It was in a very specialist sector and yet the first requirement in the person specification was to hold a degree. Not a specific, job related degree, but any degree. Given that many companies use automated sifting systems as part of their recruitment process, they would presumably reject someone without a degree but who had very relevant experience, but someone with a degree in a totally unrelated subject (let’s say Mediaeval History) would make it through to the next stage. When they came to review the shortlist, hiring managers would no doubt tut about the shortage of good candidates.
Degrees are important in certain situations – particularly when we want people to demonstrate a certain level of independently verified knowledge of a subject. But in most cases we need to be understand what skills and knowledge a degree demonstrates; whether our job role actually requires these; and if there are other ways candidates can demonstrate that they possess these skills and knowledge.
Of course, this takes more time than the simple “just put out the advert on the job board” approach. But as I’ve argued repeatedly, recruitment is a major investment decision (especially in small businesses) and it’s worth taking a little more time to get the right person rather than making lazy assumptions.