Skills mismatch needs better vocational routes in UK – CIPD

There is a growing danger of the ‘graduatisation’ of the labour market, according to a new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). And the government must give more attention to the viable pathways that are open to young people, with special emphasis on improving vocational routes and the provision of better careers advice.

The new report, Alternative Pathways into the Labour Market, points out that as a result of three decades of an education policy that prized the expansion of higher education, “It is clear that graduates are occupying more and more jobs that were once occupied by their non-graduate parents”.

There has developed, the institute argues, a skills mismatch, with over-qualification becoming the norm, and industry not being provided with enough of the skills they need. During the same time period, “The number of workers who have completed formal apprenticeships in the UK labour market between 1989 and 2014 fell from 17.6% to 10.1%.”


‘Current situation needs improvement’

The report is strikingly critical of the current apprenticeship system, which it says needs serious improvement. The authors wrote: “The existing quality of vocational education and training in the UK needs to be improved. An OFSTED report (2015) into apprenticeship provision found that too much provision was weak and failed to provide sufficient training to develop substantial new skills. More recently, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO 2016) found that one in three Level 2 and Level 3 apprentices claimed to be unaware that the training they undertook constituted an apprenticeship. And one in five reported that they had not received any formal training at all, either at an external provider or in the workplace.”

The CIPD says that the number of higher apprenticeships on offer is currently too low and must increase. “Unless there is a very significant increase in the proportion of apprenticeships created at these higher levels,” they say. “It is difficult to see how the current bias towards university education will be addressed.”

The government’s much discussed 3 million by 2020 target, runs the risk, the report says, of focusing too much on quantity and less on the quality of training on offer. The structure of the Apprentice Levy may have the unintended consequence of driving employers to invest in lower level 2 apprenticeships in order to reclaim training costs. “To address these concerns, the CIPD has called for the levy to be repositioned as a more flexible training levy and for funding to be weighted to favour Level 3 and above apprenticeships.


‘Employers must change recruitment practices’

But while the report called on government and educators to focus on providing better routes and advice to broaden the opportunities open to young people, employers must also play their part, the report stated.

“Changes in attitudes are also required on the employers’
side of the market as much as on the side of those entering the labour market. Without
 this, the availability of good apprenticeships and advice
 will have limited effect as 
young people will still, quite reasonably, follow the route that gives them the best access to good jobs.”

The institute makes a range of recommendations, and puts improving careers advice at the centre of its prescription, and quotes a 2016 survey of 1,000 16–18-year-olds by ACCA, which found nearly a third had received no career advice relating to apprenticeships, “With 61% believing employers prefer graduates and 65% saying their parents would prefer them to go to university”.

 says it was extremely supportive of the Careers and Enterprise Company and is actively working with it to help recruit EAs from the
 HR community. “However, the CIPD does not believe it is a replacement for good-quality careers advice delivered in schools. The CIPD believes there should be minimum standards for the provision of careers advice and guidance delivered in schools.

“Interactive careers websites such as Plotr provide a great basis for the delivery of exciting, up-to-date advice on the whole breadth of careers available to young people and there is no reason why schools should not use such technology as the basis for providing relevant and engaging careers guidance.”

Peter Cheese, chief executive of CIPD, said: “This report shows clearly how the huge increase in the supply of graduates over the last 35 years has resulted in more and more occupations and professions being colonised by people with degrees, regardless of whether they actually need them to do the job.

“Governments of all colours have long had a ‘conveyor belt’ approach to university education, with a rhetoric that has encouraged more and more students to pursue graduate qualifications. However, with this research showing that for many graduates, the cost of university education outweighs its personal economic benefits, we need a much stronger focus on creating more high-quality alternative pathways into the workplace, such as higher-level apprenticeships, so we really do achieve parity of esteem between the two routes.”

He added: “Graduates are increasingly finding themselves in roles which don’t meet their career expectations, while they also find themselves saddled with high levels of debt. This ‘graduatisation’ of the labour market also has negative consequences for non-graduates, who find themselves being overlooked for jobs just because they have not got a degree, even if a degree is not needed to do the job. Finally, this situation is also bad for employers and the economy as this type of qualification and skills mismatch is associated with lower levels of employee engagement and loyalty, and will undermine attempts to boost productivity.”