More than half of Northern Ireland graduates feel that their skills and talents are underused in the province's business and industry and that local employers do not help develop their skills, according to a major new survey.
The survey of more than 1,400 Northern Ireland graduates four years after graduation was conducted by Bob Osborne, professor of applied policy studies at Ulster University.
Professor Osborne - who carried out the study through the centre for research on higher education, a joint centre of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast - found that graduates were satisfied or highly satisfied with the skills they had acquired during their degree course. But a substantial majority said these skills were not used once they went into work and that most employers had no system for developing or boosting their skills.
Three-quarters of the graduates worked in small and medium-size enterprises, which were less likely to use graduates' skills or to have training policies.
Professor Osborne said there was clearly a need for Northern Ireland's Training and Employment Agency to help businesses adopt training policies that allowed graduates' skills to be better used.
"Employers that fail to do this will increasingly fail to retain graduate employees, as company loyalty is a largely a thing of the past," he warned.
The study also found that female graduates are consistently less well paid than their male equivalents. Comparing male and female graduates with the same level of qualification, discipline and occupation, Professor Osborne found that women's salaries were significantly lower and that the discrepancies in salaries emerged before the women had even started a family.
* Another study has found that a degree dramatically boosts the earning power of Northern Irish women. The province's Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment published a report by Colm Harmon of University College Dublin and the Centre for Economic Policy Research and Ian Walker of Warwick University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. They found that while in Britain, every extra year of education adds 6 per cent to men's earnings and 10 per cent to women's, this rises to 8 per cent for men and 12 per cent for women in Northern Ireland. Graduates there earn about 46 per cent more annually than if they had only A levels. Male graduates can expect to earn an extra 16 per cent more each year.