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Graduate Advice
5 min read

Graduates And The Problem Of Underemployment

Underemployment is a significant challenge which graduates often face. It has potential to significantly affect their chosen career path as well as financial stability and overall job satisfaction. Despite having achieved at university and having gained higher education qualifications, many graduates find themselves settling for roles that either do not fully utilise their skills or align with their field of study which can lead to a variety of issues - both personal and professional.
Written by
Joanna Clare
Content Manager
Published on
June 13, 2024

Underemployment is a significant challenge which graduates often face. It has potential to significantly affect their chosen career path as well as financial stability and overall job satisfaction. Despite having achieved at university and having gained higher education qualifications, many graduates find themselves settling for roles that either do not fully utilise their skills or align with their field of study which can lead to a variety of issues - both personal and professional.

A main reason for underemployment is the mismatch between graduate skills and job market demands and while universities do equip their students with theoretical knowledge, many graduates lack the necessary or desired practical skills and experience sought by many employers. This obvious skill gap makes it challenging for graduates to secure positions that align with their academic training, often resulting in them accepting lower skilled or unrelated jobs in order to earn a salary and to have a job.

A competitive jobs market can highlight this issue especially as the number of graduates are increasing each year which creates heightened competition for a limited number of graduate level positions. This surplus of qualified candidates means many are forced to choose roles that do not even require a degree so that they do not become unemployed and is a trend which is seen in several industries where job opportunities are perhaps not as plentiful as in other disciplines.

Economic factors also play a crucial role as during economic downturns, companies will often reduce taking on new staff, particularly on entry level positions. Recessions or slow periods of growth can lead to a pronounced scarcity of suitable jobs which then push graduates into part time, temporary or low wage unemployment. Of course, while the gig economy does provide a level of income, it may not offer the stability or desired career progression that full time or permanent positions can.

Student debt is a financial burden which can compel graduates to accept underemployment. With a number of loans to repay, graduates may feel pressured to take any job that is available, regardless of its relevance to career goals and aspirations. The urgency to secure employment in order to start minimising debt can lead to career paths that are less fulfilling and offer fewer opportunities for advancement.

Persistent underemployment can quickly lead to feelings of frustration, low self esteem and anxiety about the future. The disconnect between their qualifications and current job roles can cause graduates to question the value of their education, the hard work they have put in, comparison to other graduates and general long term discontent and unhappiness.

Addressing the theme of underemployment among UK graduates requires a careful and multifaceted approach. Enhancing the alignment between academic programmes and courses and current job market needs and demands, expanding access to work placements and providing robust and tailored career advice can help to bridge the gap. Additionally, policies aimed at regional economic development, support and education around this subject for graduates facing financial hardships due to underemployment issues can mitigate the impact to help ensure that higher education leads to meaningful and rewarding careers.

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