The Rise of Graduate Underemployment

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We've known for a while that the jobs market has been challenging for graduates, but figures recently released shed some more light on the situation of ‘underemployment'. This is where graduates are employed, but in jobs for which they don't technically need a degree.

For the graduating class of 2010/2011, over 10,000 of them are in posts that fall into this category - such as customer service roles, cleaning, carrying out odd-jobs, and labouring. This is almost double the number of grads who found themselves in ‘elementary occupations' five years ago, further highlighting the fact that recent years and economic struggles - plus growing numbers of graduates competing for jobs - have made things tougher for those after graduate level employment.

However, at least we can take some comfort from the fact that these graduates are still in work. It's thought that 9 per cent of the 2010/2011 class was unemployed six months after graduating from university. This is roughly the same amount of graduates that were unemployed the year before.

These figures are worrying, but it is important to note that many graduates are still succeeding after they leave university, so it's not all doom and gloom. David Willetts, the universities minister, makes the point that graduates are still doing better than those young people without a degree, although he also acknowledged that things are tough. "We must ensure graduates enter the labour market equipped to succeed," he said.

Despite those graduates who were either underemployed or unemployed, it seems that quite a lot of the 2010/2011 cohort already has. According to more figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, six months after they graduated, 158,000 were in some form of employment. That includes 47,350 graduates working in ‘associate professional and technical' roles such as police officers, nurses, translators and other professional jobs.

This shows that there are still opportunities out there for graduates, but the increased competition is a factor in their ability to get graduate level work. High Fliers, a market research company, recently said that one of the issues in the graduate job market is that new grads are up against people who graduated a year or two earlier and who are still looking for jobs. It's thought that as many as 1 in 3 applications for graduate jobs this year are from people who graduated last year (or even earlier).

So there is clearly still work to be done to make sure all graduates are able to find employment once they leave university and that, wherever possible, that work is of a graduate level. The general secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said: "The government should be doing more to stimulate jobs and growth. While the Prime Minister continues to attack people on benefits, he is doing little to help them get off benefits and on with their lives."

This is not an issue that will be fixed overnight, and those graduates who are currently underemployed are likely to be feeling frustrated, but maybe we can take a bit of comfort in the fact that there are still opportunities out there for graduates - and it's easier to get a job once you're in a job. The big question though, is if graduates are taking jobs for which they don't need a degree, what jobs are left for all those young people who didn't go to university in the first place?

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