Overqualification, underutilisation

I’ve just been at a session of the Skills Commission.  Alan Felstead, whose work on how the skills picture has evolved over time has been so valuable, gave evidence before me, drawing on data which goes back twenty years or more.  Alan showed how the incidence of training declined before the recession but, surprisingly, not during or since.  However the duration of training has shrunk – i.e. the time people spend in training is going down.

The focus of the Commission’s discussion was on how well skills are being used.  Here the picture is complex and the evidence often quite tricky to interpret.   Alan’s general points are:

1.  The issue is much more one of under-use of skills than of shortages.  In other words, we should be looking less at the supply side, and more at what happens to the skills that are there.

2.  Over-qualification grew steadily between 1986 and 2006, for graduates and for the working population overall.  It seems to have levelled off recently.

3.  People report themselves working at higher levels of intensity and pressure.

Overqualification rates are reported as higher for men than for women, by a couple of percentage points.  But here we get into some of the interpretation problems,  since we know that men are more likely to consider themselves able to do the job, and women are more likely to say that there are parts of a job they cannot do.   Similarly on work intensity:  women are now considerably more likely to report themselves as in a job which requires them to work hard, the gap being 8 points now compared with 2 points 20 years ago;  but how sure are we that there is no difference in the way he sexes report this?   On both of these the Commission good-humouredly agreed that there was scope for debate….

One of the Commissioners, Ian Ferguson, runs a technology business employing several hundred people.  He challenged my claim that men are far less likely than women to choose to carry on doing the job they are in because they like it and aren’t over concerned about promotion.  I’ve had this response from computer programmers also.  So it’s an issue on which they might well be considerable variation across sectors.  I wonder, for instance if the same would be true in the creative skills – Dinah Caine, CEO of Creative Skillset, is another Commissioner, and I shall follow it up with her.

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