17 November 2017

The future of graduate jobs: a cause for concern?

Professor Francis Green’s recent evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee addresses the future of the graduate job market.

Professor Green points out that nowadays graduate jobs are not confined to just the traditional professional and high management posts. Numbers of existing graduate occupations have expanded, while a few occupations have become more complex and are now classified as graduate jobs.

Yet he warns that the future of the graduate labour market is ‘uncertain’ due to difficulty in forecasting graduate jobs growth. He argues that the massive investment in information technology in the 2000s, which led to a significant growth in graduate jobs, was exceptional. Most countries across Europe have experienced a small increase in the proportion of graduates working in non-graduate jobs in the most recent decade. In addition, speculation about a new phase of automation using artificial intelligence (a ‘fourth industrial revolution’) has led to pessimistic predictions of job displacement.

Professor Green argues that while some underemployment of graduates is inevitable, it is not necessarily a problem since society benefits from having a better educated population. He points out that in Britain graduates enjoy better health than those who did not go to university, show higher levels of social trust, are more likely to participate in some form of civic activity such as volunteering, and have a greater sense of political efficacy.

He concludes that underemployment is more worrying if it is increasing, and young graduates should not be expected to foot so much of the bill for their education. He warns that if increasing numbers opt out of higher education in the future when faced with the prospect of huge debts and the uncertainties of the graduate labour market, society could lose out.

Professor Green’s evidence is based on large-scale nationally-representative surveys. His focus is the medium term, looking at periods of a decade or more from the past and into the future, rather than the immediacy of the present.