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Adding value to UK graduate labour market statistics: The creation of a non-financial composite measure of job quality - Section 6: Concluding remarks

Section 6: Concluding remarks

It is increasingly recognised across the globe that societal progress cannot be judged purely on monetary terms. Consequently, policymakers are giving greater consideration to the quality of work available to citizens of a nation, including within developed economies. Job quality is a multi-faceted concept that covers those features of employment that are associated with individual wellbeing. Historically, studies on this topic have tended not to focus a great deal on graduates, given it has been assumed that they are likely to be in good quality jobs. However, there is growing evidence of this no longer being always the case.

In the UK, the MJQWG has highlighted eighteen job quality variables that sit within seven broad dimensions. Yet, only one of these indicators (earnings) is consistently reported on among graduates, despite students stating that they do not view higher pay as the only benefit of completing a degree. The other key metric utilised (whether a graduate is in ‘highly skilled’ employment based on their SOC category) is not in itself a variable relating to job quality. Rather, it is presumed that these are the types of jobs that enable graduates to use their skills and that align with their career aspirations – both of which are indicators of job quality as defined by the MJQWG. Given the provision of decent work for all is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and with graduates of more recent years experiencing greater difficulties in the labour market, there is a need for data on graduate employment outcomes in the UK to go beyond the current concentration on salary. This must be done while being mindful of the fact that introducing several indicators can also make it more difficult for policymakers and the general public to identify key trends.

We tackle this challenge by using an annual survey on graduates that contains three job quality indicators relating to the design and nature of work. In line with the advice given by the MJQWG and the broader literature in this field, we begin by exploring whether a single composite measure that would be particularly useful in communications around the quality of work in the public domain can be created from these three variables. Our empirical investigation confirms that this is indeed possible. Given the definition of job quality, we subsequently highlight the positive correlation between this composite measure and subjective wellbeing, while also illustrating that there is no clear trend between income and wellbeing among graduates beyond a certain threshold. The conclusion from this is that looking at earnings alone will not offer a good proxy for understanding whether graduates also enjoy favourable non-monetary outcomes too, which are seen as important when examining individual progress within a nation.

We also illustrate that the current presumption that the ‘highly skilled’ employment marker can be used as a way of understanding whether graduates are in work that uses their skills and lines up with their ambitions does not always hold. Rather, there are jobs that would not be classified as ‘highly skilled’ where graduates do report high design and nature of work scores. These roles therefore do appear to utilise their skills and align with their career aims, as well as providing a sense of purpose to them. Additionally, there are positions that are deemed to be ‘highly skilled’ where the value for the composite measure is low.

Finally, we show that the introduction of a composite measure of job quality could also be valuable in highlighting inequalities in the labour market and hence where there is a need for policy intervention to ensure all have access to good work. We do so by noting that while differences in earnings by ethnicity for early career graduates are minimal, there are disparities by ethnic group when we look at our composite measure and these remain even after controlling for personal, study and employment characteristics. Future research examining inequalities in the workplace utilising our composite measure on the design and nature of employment may wish to extend the work we have presented here by carrying out an intersectional analysis that introduces other demographic characteristics such as sex or socioeconomic background, alongside ethnicity.

Collectively, these findings lead us to the key conclusion to take from this paper, which is that the job design and nature of work variable we have constructed can be a useful addition to current statistical publications in the public domain on graduates. Such outputs may help employers and policymakers better understand their experiences in the labour market, as well as where there are inequalities that need to be addressed. 

To the best of our knowledge, the Graduate Outcomes survey is currently the only questionnaire to include three indicators of job quality that relate to the design and nature of work dimension. Introducing these questions to surveys that cover the broader UK population (i.e. non-graduates too) would be a useful addition to the work carried out here. This would potentially allow a similar composite measure to be formed to the one we have generated and help policymakers build a greater understanding of inequalities in access to quality work more widely within society.

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Tej Nathwani

Tej Nathwani

Principal Researcher (Economist)


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