Graduate employment fared better during pandemic, ONS figures suggest

The figures suggest that graduates are more likely to work in jobs they are overqualified for than the rest of the population

Graduates appear to have fared better during the economic turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic than the rest of the UK workforce, the latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest. 

Analysis of the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) and Longitudinal Labour Force Survey suggests the proportion of graduates that remained employed during the pandemic was higher than the UK average.  

The figures come from an ONS report compiled with Dr Michela Vecchi, associate professor of economics at the University of Middlesex, and Dr Catherine Robbinson, deputy dean at the University of Kent.

The data does not paint an entirely positive picture of the graduate labour market – but it suggests graduates may be, thus far, less susceptible to the economic turbulence of the pandemic. 


According to the statistics, the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) unemployment rate for UK graduates was 4.6% between July and September 2020, compared with 5.1% for the overall unemployment rate. Unemployment has risen for both groups during the pandemic. 

Recent graduates were more likely to be unemployed. Unemployment averaged at 6.3% over the period and peaked at 12.0% in the autumn when the latest graduate cohort joined the lab market statistics. Young graduates were less likely than other young people to face unemployment, though: the youth unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 years was above 13.6% throughout 2020.

The percentage of graduates in low-skilled jobs increased

There are some caveats to the report’s findings. Although the percentage of graduates in “mismatched” jobs declined during the pandemic, continuing a downward trend started in 2018, it remains above that for the non-graduate labour force.

Around 16.8% of those in employment, aged 16 to 64 years, were overqualified for the jobs they held last year – and this figure has remained consistent over several years. For graduates, the figure averages 30.5% since 2018, although it has been declining year on year, hitting a new low of 25.5% in the third quarter of 2020.   

There are fewer graduates in high-skilled and upper-middle-skilled occupations than before the pandemic and an increase in lower-middle-skilled and low-skilled employment. Figures suggest the percentage in lower-skilled professions has increased by 5.3 percentage points since before the pandemic. 

These two data sets imply a contradiction – that more graduates are working in low-skilled jobs, but that there are also fewer graduates employed in jobs for which they are overqualified. 

“This may be because of a better match with the educational requirement of occupations, allowed by the fact that graduates are better able to work remotely because of the nature of their work,” the authors suggested. “A decline in the skill mismatch during the pandemic could also be a consequence of the increase in the unemployment rates among graduates, as sectors with a high proportion of overqualified graduates, such as hospitality and recreation, have drastically reduced their activity. These areas are some of the many questions for future research around this topic.” 

The graduate labour market comprises approximately 14 million of the UK population. Women account for around 56% of graduates in the labour market – a figure that has gradually increased over the last decade.

Read more: Spending on student loans to hit £13bn by 2026, OBR predicts

Image via Flickr. 

Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?

Interactive Roundtable

The Role of Testing within Digital Transformations

Wednesday, January 26, 11AM (GMT)