Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 15:27 UK

UK workers 'becoming overskilled'

IT worker
Headway is being made to increase high level skills

There are now too few jobs for UK graduates, and the gap between the supply of high-level workers and jobs for them is growing, a report suggests.

The report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills says businesses need to show more vision and be more ambitious to offer highly skilled jobs.

It says targets for the year 2020 to raise the skills of those with low or intermediate skills will not be met.

Ministers say the report is out of date and employers must play their part.

Firms should do more to invest in skills, they say.

The report criticises leadership and management in the UK, describing "a long tail of managers who are not well qualified and do not apply accepted management practices".

Unless they improve, economic performance will not improve either, it says.

The UKCES is an independent body set up by government to improve employment and skills, and its report looks at how likely the UK is to meet specific targets for the year 2020.

These include:

  • 90%+ of the workforce to be qualified to at least Level 2 (equivalent to five good GCSEs)
  • 68% of the workforce to be qualified to at least Level 3 (equivalent to two A-levels)
  • 40% of the workforce to be qualified to at least Level 4 (degree level)

Based on government figures for how many people were learning in 2006, and assuming current trends continue, the report says the UK will only achieve the Level 4 target.

It says "strong action" is needed to change these predictions.


These targets evolved from recommendations by a major report on skills written by Lord Leitch at the end of 2006.

Lord Leitch also said 95% of the UK population should have functional literacy and numeracy by 2020.

But the UK will only meet the target for literacy, the UKCES says.

Its report says: "The proportion of jobs requiring higher levels of qualifications has been rising whilst the proportion requiring low or no qualification has been declining.

"This trend has profound implications for vulnerable groups and people facing multiple barriers to employment."

With regard to the high skills "mismatch", it says the growth in high skill people significantly exceeds the growth in high skill jobs, with an increase in overqualified staff, particularly graduates.

To change this, investment should be made in raising the ambitions of employers as well as skills supply.

"The UK has too few high performance workplaces," it concludes.

'Acting now'

General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Brendan Barber, agreed that raising ambition was the responsibility of businesses:

"Government must also take note of the finding that improving skills is only part of the solution," he said.

"Too few businesses are operating in high value-added sectors and too many employees are over-qualified for their job. Tackling these challenges requires a wider economic strategy."

"The government, unions and employers must continue to invest in training in order to protect as many jobs as possible during the downturn.

England's Skills Secretary, John Denham, said: "This report vindicates our long held position that investment in skills is key to our future prosperity and should be a priority for individuals and employers as well as government.

"However many of its projections are based on 2006 data and assume no further action will be taken by government.

"Since 2006 the government has published the Leitch report, begun to transform the skills system, invested heavily in skills to the tune of over £5 billion in 2009-10 and 7.4 million adults have gained a qualification.

"We are acting now to protect our future prosperity."

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