Warning over glut of ICT graduates as supply outstrips demand

Several European countries are set to educate more graduates than the job market will need, EU report warns

October 13, 2019
Bike and computer mice
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Countries across Europe could face a surplus of graduates in information and communications technology, a European Union report has cautioned, amid warnings that predictions of surging job growth in these areas are overhyped.

Germany, France, Spain, Poland, the Republic of Ireland and Austria are all expected to have a glut of such graduates in coming years, according to a future-gazing report by the Joint Research Centre, which provides science and technology advice to the EU.

“Expected surpluses are mainly due to the fact that the demand for ICT graduates’ skills is set to grow at a slower pace than the predicted growth in supply,” said a statement from the report’s authors.

Some states, however, including the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, are still predicted to have high demand for ICT graduates, according to The Changing Nature of Work and Skills in the Digital Age.

The predictions may confound some universities’ assumptions about which disciplines have good job prospects. “Sometimes, the narrative and the political discourse isn’t always evidence-based,” said Konstantinos Pouliakas, a researcher at the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, commenting on the report.

“In terms of supply of graduates, there’s very high growth,” both overall and in ICT, he said. “If you look at what is happening in terms of demand, it’s not surprising that in some countries you’re likely to have a surplus rather than a demand.”

There had been “some” increase in the number of jobs for ICT professionals – who make up about 3 to 5 per cent of the workforce – “but it’s not mind-blowing”, Dr Pouliakas said.

There were also no “hard data” yet to support the idea that there will be enough openings for graduates in popular new subject areas such as artificial intelligence, data science and cybersecurity, he said, adding: “There needs to be caution.”

There are caveats to the JRC’s gloomy conclusions. The report assumes that graduate numbers and job openings will expand just as they have in the past. However, ICT graduates might set up their own companies, boosting employment in these fields, Dr Pouliakas pointed out.

ICT graduates still commanded high average wages, and they could use their skills in other jobs – as managers or analysts, for example – that were not strictly in the ICT field, he added.

The report predicts that job growth in IT, engineering and science will slow down, compared with the rapid rises seen since the beginning of the millennium. Openings in “elementary” jobs, such as cleaners and food preparation assistants, will grow almost as quickly.

Dr Pouliakas noted that although jobs were indeed becoming less routine, the economy was not necessarily switching to high-skill, digitally savvy work as quickly as sometimes assumed.

The report also warns that the wage premium for recent tertiary education graduates over those with just upper secondary education has shrunk in most EU countries.

“Although, in general, more highly educated workers have better labour market prospects than the less well educated, over the last decade, an increasing number of graduates have started to witness rather unexpectedly modest returns on their education,” it says.

“Cognitive skills seem not sufficient any more for a well-paid job,” warned the authors in a statement. “These skills are not being fully covered by formal education, and depend on more experience and lifelong learning approaches.”

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Don't forget that it is having been educated to degree level that is important: many of us do not end up working in the discipline that we have studied at undergraduate level. Also with ICT/Computing, understanding how to use one to effect will stand a graduate in good stead whatever line of work they go into.

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