mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
UK College Grads Stuck Working Low-Skilled Jobs


Life is tough for American college grads, but their peers overseas aren’t doing much better: Nearly half of all recent graduates in the UK are currently working in jobs that do not require a college degree. The exact number is 47 percent—much higher than the 39 percent in this category five years ago, and higher than similar numbers reported in America. Meanwhile, as the FT notes, these graduates are grappling with much higher student loan burdens and have considerably lower wages with which to pay them off compared with older generations.

Britain appears to be following a similar path to the US, in which college degrees become increasingly expensive even as they become less remunerative—yet the percent of the population with a degree steadily rises. Meanwhile, the glut of graduates competing for low-skill jobs are pushing those without degrees out of the jobs that they are qualified for, effectively making a college education a prerequisite for getting any job at all. Essentially, a college education is now both more essential and less valuable than ever. The FT:

John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist consultancy, said: “The fact that the unemployment rate for recent graduates is much lower than that for non-graduates is due simply to the fact that almost half of those who have recently gained higher education qualifications are entering jobs for which they are overqualified, which makes it even harder for the less qualified to find work.”

He added: “Even more worryingly, the unemployment rate for recent graduates has flatlined since 2010 despite the growth in employment in recent years.”

Young people shouldn’t have to face such an ordeal just to enter the workplace. In the US, lowering tuition costs, ditching the four-year, credit hour system and encouraging colleges to teach skills more relevant to the job market would be all be good places to start.

[Oxford University photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Anthony

    What do people expect? A BA (or whatever they call it on the other side of the pond) teaches nothing that employers value. I “earned” a BA from a run of the will institution, and I can assure you that it hasn’t done much for me. I loved the classes, and I loved the intellectual stimulation that was provided by the faculty. That said, employers are NOT impressed. I cannot blame the university I attended, however. I was not forced to buy their product.

    While it is true that there are some BA holders in prominent positions – such as fmr. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who made hundreds of millions of dollars as CEO of Goldman Sachs – it is important to remember that they earned their degrees at elite instiutions that use quasi iq tests to select their students. In other words, they were hired primarily based on their IQ, not on what they learned in school.

    For the overwelming majority of people in the world, there is only one sound method to avoid poverty. First you have to learn skills that you can sell in the job market. If you want to know what skills are valued, do a Google search for the starting salaries of graduates with different majors. If college isn’t your thing, look into skilled blue collar trades, with a focus on the average salary. As Professor Mead has noted, the oil and gas boom is providing a lot of good paying jobs for skilled blue collar workers.

    Then, once you’ve obtained a job, you need to live below your means that so that you can save and invest your money using a diversified portfolio. The more diversified it is, the better. Then, absent some serious long term catastrophe where you are unable to work, you should continually add to your portfolio every year and let the magic of compound interest work it’s magic.

    • Andrew Allison

      Anthony, with the very greatest respect, I think you missed the mark with this one. What I think WRM is saying is that the requirement for a degree is simply a way for employees to hire presumably better educated employees for jobs which don’t require it (and hence a waste of time and money on the part of the employee), and that what we need to do is focus on the, much less costly, vocational training which qualifies people for the jobs which are actually out there.

  • Bruce

    A college degree is not for everyone, but when in doubt, get one. There are responsible ways to do it. You can go to a community junior college for the first two years and save a great deal of money while working part time. The same model can be followed for the second two years, but obviously not at a junior college. Don’t go in to debt! Granted, it’s not as glamorous and fun as the full 4 year plan (or more) at a party school, but it will serve most people well. A degree is a good thing if a person is cut out for it.

  • Boritz

    One phenomenon I have observed is that as the job market becomes increasingly competitive with a lot of people chasing a few jobs employers lay on the qualifications ridiculously thick. Having a degree may be of nominal help in such a situation. A degree is often a checkbox for

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service