March 2014


University graduates and the labour market

Jaume García Villar - Professor of Applied Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and president of the Scientific Committee for AQU Catalunya's employers project/survey

Aside from the months of July and October in 2006, when it was surpassed by the issue of immigration, unemployment has been the number one problem for people in Spain since 1985, according to figures from the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas. And in February of this year over 80% of those interviewed were of the opinion that unemployment is one of the three main problems, with a rate similar to that in 1985 and 1986, when it was over 20%.

The evidence above should be no surprise, given that around six million people are unemployed in Spain, of which 800,000 live in Catalonia. It is clear that the economic and financial crisis of recent years has contributed to the rise of unemployment rate from 8.3% at the end of 2007 to 26% at the end of 2013, although it is also true that unemployment has affected different sectors of society in different ways.

More specifically, and in terms of age, it is youth and the actively employed higher age groups that have been particularly marked by the possible negative effect (stigma) of unemployment. For the higher age group the probability of finding work is reduced considerably as a consequence of age, whereas for youth the difficulties of finding work means less experience, and this will negatively affect their future probabilities of being employed especially when the negative effect of age starts to come into play.

Formació i mercat de treballFrom the universities' point of view, certain questions that, amongst others, need to be asked are: In what way does a university education influence a graduate's probability of gaining employment? What are the actual occupations (job duties and responsibilities) of graduates? To what degree does the preparation and training that students receive at university conform to what employers expect and need from them?1

The first of these questions is easy enough to answer using microdata from the Encuesta de Población Activa (EPA, Working Population Survey), which are easily accessible on the website of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística/Spanish Institute of Statistics. According to the figures for the last quarter of 2013, 75.5% of those aged between 22-65 (employed, unemployed and inactive) with a university education were employed, whereas the figure for those without a university education was 54.7%. In both cases, there was a uniform distribution of the remaining percentage between unemployment and inactivity. From the point of view of age groups, however, the situation was not homogeneous. The employment rate of those aged between 22-25 was very similar for university graduates (40%) and the rest (39.3%), and 66.7% and 58.5% respectively for those aged between 26-30, and reflects the current (and recent) difficulties in finding work as a result of the crisis.

As for the second question, also on the basis of information from the EPA for the last quarter of 2013, we know that only 59.1% of university graduates aged between 22-25 (recent graduates) were employed in positions under the categories of "Management", "Professionals of a technical, scientific and/or intellectual nature" and "Technical and professional support" in the Clasificación Nacional de Ocupaciones (National Classification of Occupations) for 2011, which are those that mainly correspond to people with a university degree. This figure rises to 70.3% for graduates aged between 26-30. One might think that these figures are the consequence of the difficulties for graduates of finding a job that matches their university studies, although if one looks at the occupations of those aged between 31-40 and 40-65 these percentages are 74.9% and 78.9% are respectively. In other words, more than 20% of university graduates were in jobs that do not match their qualifications, meaning that there are symptoms of a significant mismatch between qualifications and job duties and responsibilities on the basis of this very general information.

This mismatch might even be greater given more detailed information on the specific job duties and responsibilities of graduates, including occupations that are suitable for people with a university education, and even more so if we could establish the match between university education and the requirements of the labour market and what employers expect of and value in university graduates, i.e. precisely what we need to know in order to answer question three above.

It is here where a better understanding of what employers, companies and private enterprise expect of university graduates can play an important role in the improvement and enhancement of programmes of study, without losing sight of education in the more general sense, namely, of students being taught how to think and reason, as well as their formation as citizens, which is also the responsibility of the universities. The outcomes of the Ocupadors-Employers project by AQU Catalunya should make a significant contribution to this enhancement.


1 The AQU survey on the labour market outcomes (destinations) of graduates provides detailed information on several of these issues for graduates from three years ago in Catalonia (Universitat i treball a Catalunya 2011, AQU Catalunya).


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