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Jobs Market: Graduates

Volume 834: debated on Monday 27 November 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the jobs market for graduates, and whether this assessment points to a mismatch between skills and vacancies.

My Lords, one-third of vacancies in the UK are due to skills shortages. The Government want to develop a world-leading, employer-focused, high-quality skills system that is fit for the future. Our higher education sector delivers some of the most in-demand occupational skills with the largest workforce needs, including training of nurses and teachers. The DfE published graduate labour market statistics showing that, in 2022, workers with graduate-level qualifications had an 87.3% employment rate and earned an average of £38,500. Both are higher than for non-graduates.

I thank the Minister for her detailed response, but the fact remains that we have swathes of overqualified graduates in jobs not requiring a degree. Outside London, that number has now risen to 42%, and in many regions it is more than half. Graduate vacancies are falling steeply, as is their wage premium, and students have now racked up more than £200 billion of debt, much of which will never be repaid. How do the Government plan to respond to the damaging mismatch between skills and vacancies?

I thank the noble Lord for his supplementary question. I recognise some of the points that he makes about the regional differences in graduate opportunities. However, on our wider skills strategy, the Government have introduced the lifelong learning Act, which will offer students the ability to reskill and upskill over their lifetimes. We are investing in skills at all levels and also focusing on making sure that the quality of all degrees is as high as can be.

My Lords, I was so surprised by the absence of other noble Lords asking questions that I almost did not get up. Could the Minister think particularly about the creative industries, where, at the moment, there is a significant lack of people to fill vacancies? It is true, as I think she would agree, that, historically, it is not the highest paid sector, but it is one of the most highly skilled, and yet—and here she might not agree—the education system really does not emphasise enough the value of the skills needed for the creative industries. Could she let the House know how those skills are being better valued in the education system, so that those vacancies can be filled?

The noble Baroness has anticipated well that I do not agree that those skills are not valued in our education system. Obviously, those skills are evolving and developing more into digital skills; that is an area in which we are focused both in schools and in skills bootcamps, T-levels and beyond.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that we have a shortage of teachers—some might call it a crisis of teacher vacancies—in our schools. We also have a crisis of shortages in specialist subjects, such as physics and the creative subjects, as we have heard. Fewer and fewer young people are going into teaching or studying education at university. To try to avert this crisis, is there a case for saying that we will refund your tuition fees if you become a teacher?

The Government are not considering that at the moment, and I remind the House that teacher numbers are at an all-time high, at over 468,000.

My Lords, I welcome both the Government’s efforts to make apprenticeships more accessible to ensure that people can be supported into key occupations and the expansion of this into the health service, especially with the recent NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. In healthcare professions, cover is required for apprentices’ roles when they are studying. Those apprentices are often on full-time salaries, so backfilled funding will have to be found to ensure that those workplaces can cope. As this cannot be covered by the apprenticeship levy, what support are the Government offering to ensure that those apprenticeship routes can be successful?

The Government are committed to the development of apprenticeships at all levels, including, for example, degree apprenticeships for nurses in the NHS. In relation to the earlier question, we are also exploring teacher apprenticeships. I will have to write to the right reverend Prelate on the specifics of the funding of backfilling.

Can the noble Baroness tell us why the Secretary of State has cut the higher technical education skills injection fund by one-third, down from £32 million to £21 million, at a time when the country is facing major skills shortages? It is just another example of short-termism, selling the country—and graduates—short.

The noble Baroness talks about £32 million; our skills reforms are backed by an investment of £3.8 billion over the course of this Parliament to strengthen higher and further education. In particular, we announced £200 million of funding for local skills innovation funds, supporting the local skills partnerships led by employers.

My Lords, I come back to teachers and extend the issue to healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses. I declare my interest as a member of the GMC council. If you look at the stats for trainee doctors and nurses after they have graduated, and then look at how many stay in the health service for, say, two to three years after graduation, you find that the attrition rate is alarmingly high. Is there not a case for tying some financial incentive to sticking with the health service for five years or more and at least mitigating the cost of some of your student loan?

I am less familiar with the details of the health service but, in relation to teaching and children’s social care, that is why there is so much focus in our work on retention, support for early career teachers and improving the quality of initial teacher training.

Would my noble friend agree that there are many reasons why youngsters should choose a particular course at university, of which employment or potential for future employment is an important one? I declare an interest, as I have a daughter presently at university. Could my noble friend say what the Government, and indeed universities themselves, are doing to inform youngsters making choices on which degrees to pursue at university, so that they have more information about their employability thereafter?

I absolutely agree with my noble friend that young people should be well-equipped to understand not just the options for their subject but that subject at that particular institution, because we know that future earnings power, and in addition future job satisfaction, vary very much between institutions. There are improvements being made, and I am happy to send details to my noble friend on ways that students can access that information.

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, this is not just for the arts, and it is about not just training up or career awareness but affordability. The plain fact is that many employers in the arts today cannot afford the skilled workers they need. It is at this point that the Government should intervene.

I am always slightly baffled by this line of questioning, because when I look at the performance of our creative industries and the performing arts, I see that they are resoundingly successful, both domestically and globally. I appreciate that there are skills pressures in those areas, but they are ones that many organisations are overcoming.

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, should not those with science degrees who have not got jobs be strongly encouraged to train to help fill the many physics vacancies which are causing so much worry in the education system?

I am not aware of the detail as to whether there is a mismatch between those with science degrees, in particular physics degrees, and vacancies. My understanding is that the opportunities for those with STEM degrees are significantly higher at higher professional levels than for those without.