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Demand for high skills is over, estimated, say researchers

Cardiff University : 29 March, 2004  (Technical Article)
The demand for people with high skills in the economy has been seriously over estimated, according to new research from Cardiff University. Drawing on the results of a major Economic and Social Research Council research project, a new book by Professor Phil Brown, of the School of Social Sciences, and Dr Anthony Hesketh of Lancaster University, examines the experiences of those looking for, and those giving out, new jobs in the knowledge economy.
The authors of 'The Mismanagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy' examined all 145 million jobs in the US Economy and the 28 million jobs comprising the UK economy in 2000. Only one in three workers in the UK could be said to be knowledge workers (a label given to workers with high levels of skills and often equated with graduates).

In the US, the globe's archetypal knowledge-based economy, just 20% of those actively working are knowledge workers. The authors suggest: 'We have tended to think that there has been an explosion in the number of jobs requiring knowledge workers. In reality the situation is that what growth there has been, has in fact been sluggish. Lower skilled jobs have expanded at far faster rates than knowledge worker jobs.'

The authors of 'The Mismanagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy', have even worse news. Not only does their analysis reveal that the knowledge economy is much smaller than previously thought, it is not set to expand. Their analysis of the US projections until 2010 anticipates a mere 2% increase in the proportionate share of knowledge workers.

They view the UK government's recent claim, that 80% of the 1.7 million jobs to be created in the UK economy will require those with graduate qualifications, with extreme scepticism.

'There is already evidence that up to 40 per cent of graduates in the UK are in jobs that don't require a university degree,' said Professor Brown.

The authors also not note: 'According to the US projections, roughly 200,000 jobs should be created each month for the economy to grow at the rate projected but the actual number of jobs added to the total in December 2003 was a mere 1,000. This is what the American economists are alluding to when they talk of the jobless recovery. If there is an explosion in the demand from organisations for high value-adding human resources, it isn't showing up in the data from the US or the UK.'

However, it is in the UK where the omens of The Mismanagement of Talent are at their most foreboding. There are currently over 1.5 million students in the UK's higher education system. With approximately 400,000 graduates entering the labour market each year, Brown and Hesketh estimate there to be 'at the very most' around 62,000 designated graduate jobs available from those household name organisations with whom graduates expect to be working upon graduation.

But as the Mismanagement of Talent points out: 'A university degree is not enough to make one employable as credentials do no more than permit entry into the competition for tough-entry jobs rather than entry into the winner's enclosure.'
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