Saturday, 29 August 2015

Over-qualified graduates or an under performing economy?

The CIPD reports that more than half our graduates are working in non graduate jobs. Employers are beginning to use a high qualification bar for recruitment in order to sift applicants more cost effectively; and recruits are finding that they have skills which are not being used. (The report makes a genuflection in the direction of general under use of skills, but needs to make more of the fact that many non graduate employees are not being stretched to their full capacity either - and never have been.)

Reporting of this report is varied. The Guardian says, "Britain’s failure to create sufficient high-skilled jobs for its rising proportion of graduates means the money invested in education is being squandered, while young people are left crippled by student debts, warns a new report."  AGCAS says, "The report suggests a range of interpretations of the available data, but the findings raise questions about the size of the HE sector in relation to our labour market needs and reinforce calls for investment in alternative routes into work for young people." Adventures in Evidence is looking forward to the bun fight: "The annual graduate employment statistics remain much-emphasised by universities and government.  Providing an alternative, more sceptical view, this report is worth a bit of attention: it will be interesting to see what counter-arguments are put to this and by whom."  Though so far there doesn't seem to have been much of one. Readers may point me to analyses which I have missed.

Creating high skill jobs requires investment - that thing that Tory governments don't do if they can possibly help it. The Tory rationale is that investment is best left to the market. If firms want high earning staff, they will create high paying jobs. Trouble is there is a mismatch here between requirements for the economy as a whole and requirements of individual corporations. In a way the Tories are right: investment is best left to companies and sectors to decide for both short and long term strategies. But what happens when the business sector gets it wrong too?

Globalisation, technological development and the increasing power of the managerial classes are causing a widening divide throughout the world between the elite and the rest. The CIPD report mentions the hourglass workforce demographic, where there are some nice jobs at the top, then a squeeze, below which the hulk of (generally low paid and precarious) jobs are situated. The elite who run the companies are quite happy with that. It appears our government is quite happy with that too because much of George Osborne's economic policy is pushing that way. But therein lies the contradiction - if that is the shape of our economy, we do not need a large body of graduate employees. The rationale behind Blair's HE expansion was that to maintain our prosperity we would need to compete with the rest of the world on skills and inventiveness. For that we need a large base of well educated recruits. But the economy we are developing (rapidly) is not that kind of economy. So at some point that contradiction will need to be dealt with.

I do not expect our business sector to be able to deal with it on its own. While there is a great deal of entrepreneurship and vision around in the business sector, it seems to me that there is not enough, and current policies do not encourage it nearly enough. It seems to me that our managerial class has become expert in forms of behaviour which are great at enriching them and maintaining their position, but does not require them to find new fields and new endeavours. In other words, they have become among the world's leading experts in rent seeking: in extracting the value of other people's labour and appropriating it for themselves in bonuses and dividends. Why risk unbalancing the trough when your nose is still in it?

The CIPD says, quotes in Times Higher Ed, “It’s crucial we as a nation take stock now of whether our higher education system is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations, and society.” In my view, it is not the HE sector we should be looking at, it is the economy. We should be looking at whether our economy is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations and particularly for society. All the signs are that it is not. And it can be changed. The economy is not a monolith, as neoliberals would have us think. It is not beyond influence - in fact what the Tory half of the last government and Tory whole of this government is doing is influencing the economy in the - for me - wrong direction. What we are developing is a finely tuned version of the economy of the trough and we desperately need a form of economy that spreads security and prosperity as widely as possible. People should be rewarded for the work they do, rather than the value being sifted out of it and given to people who have not worked for it. And we should also recognise that the economy is easily big enough - massive enough in fact - to afford to pay a decent minimum, without constant harassment, to those who, through no fault of their own, are not working.

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