The UK’s mismatched workforce: Half of UK workers are in the wrong job

New CIPD research highlights the need to improve people management and development opportunities to boost engagement and productivity.

Almost half (49 per cent) of UK workers are in jobs they are either under- or over-skilled for, according to new research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

The CIPD’s report ‘Over-skilled and underused: Investigating the untapped potential of UK skills’ surveyed 3,700 UK employees. It found that more than a third (37 per cent) of workers have the skills to cope with more demanding duties than they currently have. At the opposite end of the scale, one in ten (12 per cent) employees said they lacked all the skills needed to carry out their job effectively. This means that as many as half (49 per cent) of UK workers could be in the wrong job, based on their skill level.

The UK has one of most skilled workforces in the world, with 42 per cent of workers qualified to degree level, yet it also has the highest proportion of jobs within the OECD which require no qualifications at all. The CIPD’s survey reveals that many graduates are in jobs which do not require degree level qualifications. Almost a third (30 per cent) of respondents said that while a higher level degree would be required in order to get their job, lower qualifications are actually needed to do their job effectively. This suggests that many employers are still using degrees as a way of filtering applications.

However, the report also shows that having a university degree is no guarantee of being prepared for the workplace. More employees with a university degree said they were under-skilled for their role (14 per cent) compared to those without one (10 per cent). This highlights the importance of ongoing training and development in the workplace. Despite this, a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents said they had not received training in the last year, with older employees, low wage workers, those on part-time contracts and the self-employed most likely to say this.

The CIPD’s survey also found that being over-skilled can have a number of negative consequences on employees. Just 53 per cent of over-skilled workers said they are satisfied with their jobs compared to 74 per cent of people whose skills are well-suited to their role. Furthermore, in the long run, being over-skilled can hurt people’s chances of climbing up the career ladder. Just 22 per cent of workers who say they are over-skilled have been promoted to a higher position in their current organisation compared with almost a third (31 per cent) of workers in well-matched roles. Furthermore, more than a quarter of over-skilled workers earn less than £20,000 a year compared with just 15 per cent of those whose say their skills are well matched to their jobs.

In response to these challenges, the CIPD is calling for organisations to improve how they manage and develop their people and for Government to work in partnership with employers, unions, and local areas to provide bespoke, practical support to enable smaller firms in particular to improve their people management practices.

Lizzie Crowley, Skills Adviser at the CIPD, comments:

“How skills are used, or not used, in the workplace has important economic and social implications, and is a key factor in tackling the UK’s productivity crisis.

“Individuals who report using their skills fully in the workplace have higher levels of job satisfaction, earn more and are more resilient to change, while businesses benefit from a more productive workforce and increased profitability. However, we have ended up in a situation where our economy isn’t creating nearly enough high-skilled jobs, while the proportion of low-skilled roles remains stubbornly high. This leaves many workers trapped in low skill work, which doesn’t match their ability, offers poorer pay and progression prospects and does little to boost the productivity of organisations.

“There needs to be a much greater emphasis on how well existing skills and capabilities of individuals are harnessed and developed at work, through better people management practices and access to development opportunities. For too long, skills policy in the UK has been fixated on increasing the supply of skills coming into the labour market. This has failed as an approach. To address stagnant productivity and stimulate the economy, the industrial strategy must prioritise better use of existing skills, built on the foundation of better quality jobs and business models that deliver high-value goods and service. Without real and impactful change to the UK’s skills strategy, the UK’s productivity puzzle will prove impossible to solve.”

To address the skills mismatch, recommendations from the CIPD’s report include:

  • The Chancellor should use the Autumn Budget to boost investment in skills development through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NIPF)
  • High-quality careers advice and guidance should be offered in schools, and more high-quality vocational routes into work should be created
  • Employers should invest in formal training for all line managers to ensure that they have the skills they need to support employee development
  • The Government must work in partnership with employers, unions, sector bodies, Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities at a national, sector and local level to provide practical support that encourages small employers in particular to improve their people management practices





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.