Businesses have been urged to stop prioritising candidates with degree qualifications when screening job applicants, with experts warning that the practise could be contributing to skills gaps and reducing employment opportunities.
New research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, has found that the majority of employers (57%) still mainly look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting staff.
While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, the CIPD is warning that too often employers base hiring decisions on whether someone has a degree or not, regardless of its relevance. By doing this, the CIPD said employers could be missing out on key talent, exacerbating skills gaps and reducing employment opportunities for people.
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Furthermore, 2022 data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that there were one million more graduate-level job vacancies than there were degree holders to actually fill them.
As such, the CIPD has called for employers to ensure that they are thinking carefully about whether a degree is required for roles when hiring, and to invest in a range of vocational training options to upskill existing staff. The call comes at a time when the UK is facing a tight labour market and firms are struggling to find the skills they need in job candidates and in their own workforces.
The CIPD surveyed more than 2,000 senior decision-makers on skills, and found that:
Just 32% of employers have conducted a strategic workforce planning exercise in the last 12 months.
64% of employers think that at least some of their employees lack some of the skills required to do their job effectively.
The skills employers have the most difficulty finding in jobseekers are overwhelmingly technical skills (said 68%).
Most employers look for specific qualifications when recruiting, just 24% don’t.
More than half of employers (57%) of employers look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications from jobseekers. While certain roles will require a degree, for others this is often just to ‘sift’ large volumes of applications and can disadvantage jobseekers with relevant experience, but not specific qualifications.
46% of employers in England have heard of T-levels, which provide a vocational pathway for young people to learn technical skills.
Despite the continued focus on degrees, a third of employers (33%) agreed that university/HE institute candidates are either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ poorly prepared for the workplace and school and college leavers even less so.
Lizzie Crowley, Skills Adviser for the CIPD, said: “Employers need to stop thinking that generic university degrees are always the best indicator of a person’s potential at work. They think they’re getting ‘off the shelf’ capability rather than assessing the specific skills needed for roles, then wondering why they have ongoing skills gaps.
“More employers need to take a strategic approach to skills to understand current and future needs. This means valuing a wider range of experience and qualifications when recruiting for roles and understanding all of the training and development options available to employers to upskill existing staff.”
The CIPD’s research also suggested that many employers are in the dark on training opportunities available to them via higher education (HE) or further education (FE) institutions. Just a fifth (19%) currently access external training from FE colleges, and one in four (25%) use universities or other HE institutions. Among those who didn’t source training from these, three in ten (29%) said they didn’t know why they weren’t accessing training from these providers.
The CIPD is warning that this disconnect presents a significant obstacle to the Government’s vision of a revitalised college sector with employers at its heart, and its broader goal of a ‘high-skill, high-wage’ economy.
Crowley continued: “Too few employers engage with FE institutions and employer awareness of the Government‘s technical education reforms and new vocational training routes remains low. If the Government‘s reforms are to be successful there is an urgent need to raise awareness and share examples of the positive impact that further education institutions can play in developing workforce skills.“