Where are the good jobs for non-graduates?


With the release of new ONS statistics this week, the press has again demonstrated its tendency to focus on graduate employment – or lack thereof. We’re used to hearing of a “lost generation” of students, indebting themselves in pursuit of jobs that no longer exist.

Less often do we hear as much about the fate of non-graduates, still the majority of our workforce, who are twice as likely as those without degrees to be out of work. Attention then tends to focus solely on the number of jobs available to them, but here at nef we believe the quality of jobs is just as important as the quantity.

Our newly published analysis looks more closely at the job market for non-graduates, and the ten sectors most likely to employ them. Only a few of these offer what we deem a ‘good job’ – one which pays its employees a decent wage, and a reasonable chance of career progression.

Traditional providers of such positions – the manufacturing and construction industries in particular – are not offering as many jobs as they once did. Since the 1980s, we have seen instead a rapid expansion of low paid, low skilled sectors. The biggest employer of non-graduates is now the retail industry, with hospitality and social care not far behind.

The continued loss of jobs in manufacturing will hit regions like the north-east disproportionately harder than elsewhere, worsening unemployment in already vulnerable areas. Gender inequality is also more pronounced in non-graduate employment, with those few ‘good’ sectors – construction, wholesale, transport – largely dominated by males, while less well-paid industries like social care employ more women.

Our ever-polarising job market – graduates increasingly occupying the top bands of income distribution, with non-graduates at the bottom – should be of huge concern to Labour. 55% of young people still aren’t entering higher education, and if this decline in good jobs for non-graduates isn’t halted, we are condemning them to an inevitable slide in living standards. Previous attempts to solve the problem through upskilling alone have proved fruitless, but there are solutions.

The government, as the major employer and purchaser, is already well placed to raise wages in sectors like social care. While globalisation is a major influencer on the job market, not all UK industries compete internationally, making it easier to encourage companies in retail and hospitality to pay higher wages. The decline in good sectors, like construction, can also be halted – new green and housing projects would ensure wide employment opportunities across the country.

While the current situation is pressing, it isn’t entirely bleak. There is a real opportunity for change, the case for which the Labour Party should be making.

Charles Seaford is the head of the Centre for Well-being at nef

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