One in six British workers ‘overeducated for their job’

'The generally upward trend toward increased overeducation since 2012 is worrying'

Britain may have talent, but much of it is going to waste with many workers doing jobs beneath their education level, according to a new report.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that one of the reasons Britain lags behind its economic rivals in terms of productivity is that one in six workers are overeducated for their jobs.

This is especially true of younger workers. In the last three months of 2015, 22.5 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 were overeducated for their jobs compared with a national average of 16.1 per cent. Previous studies from the ONS have emphasised the high number of recent graduates stuck in non-graduate jobs such as bartending.

Dr John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist think-tank, said: “It’s clear from these estimates that the UK is underusing a lot of talent, with women and part-time [workers] in particular employed in occupations for which they are overeducated.

“While such a waste of available skill was understandable during the recession, the generally upward trend toward increased overeducation since 2012 is worrying. 

“The response to evidence of growing competition for higher-skilled jobs and a surplus of qualified candidates should be intensified policy efforts to increase demand for skills and promote better-quality jobs.”

However, the report also showed that one in six workers are undereducated, working in roles for which they lack the average education level.

The UK had the fifth-highest level of skills mismatch of the 24 nations studied, including the Czech Republic, Kosovo, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Estonia, the research found.

The statistics showed that the proportion of workers “matched” to their job has dropped in recent years. The latest figures show a rise in the proportion of people overeducated for their job to 16.1 per cent, up from 15.3 per cent two years earlier. The proportion of people undereducated for their job, also a potential blow to productivity, rose to 15.1 per cent from 14.8 per cent.

However, statisticians concluded that young people are unlikely to remain overeducated as the rate for workers aged 35 to 49 was in line with the national average over the period studied, 2002 to 2015.

They suggested the “high rate of overeducated 25- to 34-year-olds may be… a reflection of the relationship between this age group, their occupation in these years and their position in their careers.”

The figures also showed a steady rise in the number of overeducated part-time workers. Statisticians suggested this could be linked to a similar rise in women with much higher education levels than their job required, noting that 78 per cent of part-time workers are women.

This “makes sense”, they concluded, given that many women return to work part-time after leaving the labour market to start a family.