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Britain: overqualified or underskilled?

Iain Henderson

Faculty Blog

Connection Crew, London

Connection Crew, London (Photo credit: Connection Crew CIC, London)


 Large investments of time and money are made in education and training in Britain by government, employers and workers. For the economy to thrive, the best use needs to be made of the skills produced. A  report  ‘Skills at Work in Britain’ published in May 2013 provides new evidence on whether employers in Britain are doing so and whether jobs are being upskilled. 

Key findings are:

  • Qualification requirements of jobs have risen over the last quarter of a century. By 2012 jobs requiring degrees on entry reached an all-time high, while jobs requiring no qualifications fell to historically low levels.
  • Yet, overall the evidence for continued upskilling is mixed, because there has also been a shortening of training and learning times for jobs – a reversal of trends previously recorded. The importance of computing skills at work continued to grow, albeit less rapidly than in the past, but the rise in most other generic skills came to a halt.
  • For the two decades from 1986 to 2006 the prevalence of over-qualification had been rising, but it fell between 2006 and 2012. Although mismatches remain quite high, this turnaround may signal more effective use of qualifications at work by employers.

‘Skills at Work’ presents some initial findings from the authoritative ‘Skills and Employment Survey 2012’ (SES2012).  SES2012 provides an opportunity to assess what progress has been made towards achieving the goal of raising skills utilisation. The survey collected responses from working adults in England, Scotland and Wales, interviewed in their own homes.   SES2012 is the sixth in a series of nationally representative sample surveys of individuals in employment aged 20-60 years old (although the 2006 and 2012 surveys additionally sampled those aged 61-65). The numbers of respondents were: 4,047 in the 1986 survey; 3,855 in 1992; 2,467 in 1997; 4,470 in 2001; 7,787 in 2006; and 3,200 in 2012.

The Skills and Employment Survey is funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills through the ESRC Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) which acts as the host institution.

Click here to see the ‘Skills at Work in Britain’ report