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UKCES explains: under-utilisation of skills

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Employer surveys

As part of our series of explainer blogs, we’re putting a spotlight on some of the specific terms and phrases from our UK Employer Skills Survey 2015. It’s a huge study, speaking to over 91,000 employers across the UK – but with that much data comes a certain amount of jargon.

Today we get to the bottom of an often contentious issue - under-utilisation of skills at work.

From the findings of our UK Employer Skills Survey 2015 (ESS), we can see that the skills problems employers are facing are increasingly outside their organisations. Vacancies caused by skills shortages are up, while skills gaps among existing employees have dropped.

But missing the skills that aren’t there is only one side of a coin. The other side is how businesses put to use the skills they do have. To get more information about this, ESS asks a series of questions about skills under-utilisation.

For the purposes of the survey, we’ve defined this as staff having both skills and qualifications above the level required for the role. We also ask about each separately, so we can look in a bit more detail whether the problem is to to with skills not being put to use, or qualifications. 

What's an example of this? A popular image of under-utilised skills is a university graduate pulling pints. In this case, you might expect that they have both skills and qualifications not being put to use: they're not required to hold a degree qualification to do bar work, and they're likely to have learned specialised skills that aren't being used either.  (This isn't to say that they're necessarily expert at the skills the job does require, of course.)

The survey reveals that the types of jobs and the industries affected by under-utilisation are far more widespread than graduates taking seasonal work. In fact, 30 per cent of establishments told us that at least one member of staff was under-used in this way.

Under-utilising skills doesn’t necessarily hold back performance in the same way as a skills gap. If a business is ticking over as is, a manager may reason, why change? But it does represent potential for growth that is currently being overlooked.

It’s also another example of mismatch in the labour market: the market is not creating jobs that use these skills to the best result. While this is likely to be frustrating for the individual whose skills are under-used, it also represents a waste of the investment that has been made in their skills.

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