HR Blog | 21 August 2015

Is a degree required to GET the job or to DO the job?

Graduate – Confused by Career Choices

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently released a paper on over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market1. The paper raises a number of questions and issues about how higher education and the job market interact.

Regular government figures paint a fantastic picture of the UK job market with statistics such as the employment rate at 73.5% – the highest since records began (January – March 2015)2, and average pay up by 2.2% excluding bonuses (in the same period)2. So the picture as a whole is positive, but these high level statistics mask a myriad of failures and triumphs when more closely inspected. One particular area they gloss over is the issue facing those who have left higher education recently, or will be leaving soon. The data shows that there has been a large rise in the proportion of the job market taken up by graduates, even in areas where traditionally a non-graduate would take the role.

This is possibly due to the fact that across Europe, but particularly in the UK, there has been a bigger increase in the number of graduates than there has been in the number of jobs that traditionally require graduates to do them1. This is leading to more graduates needing to start on a lower rung of the corporate ladder than their predecessors.

It could be argued that there are a number of professions that previously didn’t require a degree, such as nursing, which will contribute to the increase in market share taken by graduates. Another school of thought suggests jobs that traditionally have been taken by non-graduates have evolved and now require a graduate to do them. This presents a challenge to companies that need to reassess the specific competencies required to do the job, and to reconsider what the competencies of the current incumbent actually are. Data about people and positions is more important than ever. Reporting and analytics using HR software can help employers to visualise key data about both roles and employees, enabling HR professionals to judge what skills and qualifications are required.

Although these changes may well contribute to the shift in market share, if we look at the numbers from 1998-2008, comparing the employment share of graduates to the change in size of the highly skilled employment area, the UK appears to be falling behind most of Europe1 (in those countries that data was available for). This indicates that there are too many graduates for the jobs that they are genuinely needed for in the UK.

This can be regarded as a positive development for employers – providing a bigger pool of talent that better meets the needs of today’s businesses. However for the majority of millennials who are likely to have paid £1000 – £9000 per year to gain their degree; the saturation of the skilled job market will be a worrying prospect.

The increasing number of graduates in proportion to jobs has encouraged employers to state a degree qualification as a minimum requirement for many more jobs. This is not necessarily a reflection on whether you need a degree to do the job, but a degree is considered to be an indicator that the potential employee will hopefully learn quickly and perform well. However, it could mean that the employer will recruit people who are over qualified for the job for which they are being hired. This can result in disengaged employees who are likely to ‘job hop’ (a trademark of millennials) with a high cost for the company in terms of recruitment, retention and stability. Formalising retention strategies and tracking employee performance can help minimise these risks, which necessitates the technological infrastructure to back it up.

There are many ways to present this data and the arguments around it, but an increase in the availability of jobs requiring highly skilled employees is generally regarded as a positive development – hopefully the report from the CIPD will motivate government and private initiatives to this end. Taking a pragmatic and immediate view it becomes obvious how important it is for companies to understand as much as they can about role profiles, current employees and potential candidates to support successful business results, and create the right working environment for future talent.

[1] Chartered Institute of Persnonel and Development, “Homepage > Public policy > Policy Reports > Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market,” August 2015. [Online]. Available:
[2] BBC News, BBC News, 13 May 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 20 August 2015].