I spend a lot of time at the moment looking at how we can interpret and explain labour market data, especially for use in careers. Universities are a sensitive area of policy in the UK, and particularly in England, with an increase in fees of up to £9000 a year from this September. Inevitably, young people – and parents, are increasingly wondering if it is worth it in terms of future careers.
Strangely the big fall off in applications is from mature students who will be less effected as many of them will not hit the ceiling for repayments of the students loans being made available to pay the fees.
Thus, I suspect, it is perception rather than immediate hard economics which is driving people to apply or not.
Yesterday, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published a new report – Graduates in the Labour Market 2012 – based on the latest statistics from the Labour Force Survey. And in a very welcome development, they published a video on Youtube to accompany the PDF report. The Guardian newspaper highlighted the main results of the4 report:
More than a third of recent graduates are employed in low-skilled jobs, official figures show.
In the final quarter of 2011, 35.9% of those who had graduated from university in the previous six years were employed in lower-skilled occupations, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. This compares with 26.7%, or just over one in four, in 2001.
In the same period, the number of recent graduates in the jobs market has grown by 438,000 to around 1.5 million in 2011.
Jobs categorised as low-skilled by the ONS include hotel porters, waiters and bar staff, and retail assistants.
The report may be masking the extent of graduate unemployment however, as the unemployed figure excludes those on work experience or internships many of which are short term and, controversially, unpaid.
The one figure which surprised me in the video was the concentration of graduates in London and the South East. I suspect this reflects the role of the London and the South East as the centre for banking and finance, most of which jobs require a degree. Conversely those regions with a lower percentage of graduates are mainly focused on manufacturing industry. Whilst these industries require skilled workers, degrees may not be so important. I would be very interested to see a comparison between pay and employment of graduates and skilled workers (without a degree – for instance with an apprenticeship). Unfortunately the way in which The Labour Force Survey collects data around qualifications makes it very difficult to make any meaningful comparisons. Yet, especially for young people from working class backgrounds, that may be a key choice for them in coming years.
And whilst the present English government is attempting to increase the number of apprenticeship places, there have been persistent criticism over the quality of those apprenticeship places (see this recent BBC report), with many so called apprenticeships consisting of short courses in the retail and service industries – just those very areas where so many recent graduates are ending up!