United Kingdom

Impact of qualifications on work

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • The lower a young adult’s qualifications, the more likely they are to be lacking but wanting paid work.  So, for example, around a quarter of all people aged 25 to 29 with no GCSEs at grade C or above lacked but wanted paid work in 2010 compared to one in fifteen of those with degrees or equivalent.  All levels of qualifications appear to make a noticeable difference.
  • The lower a young adult’s qualifications, the more likely they are to be in low-paid work.  So, for example, around half of all employees aged 25 to 29 with no GCSEs at grade C or above were paid less than £7 per hour in 2010 compared to one in ten of those with degrees or equivalent.  All levels of qualifications appear to make a noticeable difference compared with the level below.
  • The overall conclusion is that staying on in education post-16, and preferably post-18, is important, in terms of both getting work and, if in work, getting a reasonable rate of pay.
  • While the patterns are similar for lacking but wanting paid work and for low pay if in work, the scales are rather different.  Thus, despite the higher risks of lacking work associated with lower qualifications, it remains the case that the great majority will be in work in their late 20s, even for those with no or low qualifications, and even in the current recession.  By contrast, half of those with no or low qualifications in work will be low paid.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

This indicator looks at the extent to which educational qualifications affect both the likelihood of having a job and the rate of pay associated with that job.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who lack but want paid work, with the data broken down by level of highest qualification.  The data is shown separately for those who are unemployed and those counted as ‘economically inactive’ who nevertheless want paid work.

‘Unemployment’ is the ILO definition, which is used for the official government unemployment numbers.  It comprises all those with no paid work in the survey week who were available to start work in the next fortnight and who either looked for work in the last month or were waiting to start a job already obtained.

The ‘economically inactive who want paid work’ includes people not available to start work for some time and those not actively seeking work.  The data is based on a question in the Labour Force Survey asking the economically inactive whether they would like paid work or not.

The second graph shows the proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds in employment who were paid less than £7 per hour, with the data broken down by level of highest qualification.

In both graphs, the lower age limit of 25 has been chosen on the grounds that a) the vast majority of people will have completed their formal education by that age and b) they will no longer be in casual employment (as, for example, students often are).  Those with GCSEs below grade C have been grouped with those with no qualifications for reasons of sample size.  The low pay threshold of £7 per hour in the second graph is roughly two-thirds of the Great Britain median hourly earnings and is commonly used as a threshold which analysing low pay.

The data source for both graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and relates to the United Kingdom.  Respondents who did not answer the questions required to perform the analysis have been excluded from the relevant graphs.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  The LFS is a well-established, quarterly survey designed to be representative of the population as whole.  However, the low pay data in the second graph is considered by ONS to be less reliable than the non-income data in the first graph.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Raise the educational achievement of all children and young people

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Increase the proportion of young children achieving a total points score of at least 78 across all 13 Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) scales – with at least 6 in each of the communications, language and literacy and language (CLL) and personal, social and emotional development (PSED) scales – by an additional 4 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 4 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 to 78% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 5 in both English and maths at Key Stage 3 to 74% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent), including GCSEs in both English and maths, at Key Stage 4 to 53% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 2 at age 19 to 82% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 3 at age 19 to 54% by 2011.

Previous 2004 targets

Improve children’s communication, social and emotional development so that, by 2008, 50% of children reach a good level of development at the end of the Foundation Stage and reduce inequalities between the level of development achieved by children in the 20% most disadvantaged areas and the rest of England.

Raise standards in English and maths so that:

  • by 2006, 85% of 11 year olds achieve level 4 or above and (not with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, the number of schools in which fewer than 65% of pupils achieve level 4 or above reduced by 40%.Raise standards in English, maths, ICT and science in secondary education so that:
  • by 2007 85% of 14 year olds achieve level 5 or above in English, maths and ICT ( 80% in science) nationally with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, in all schools at least 50% of pupils achieve level 5 or above in each of English, maths and science.

By 2008, 60% of those aged 16 to achieve the equivalent of 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C; and in all schools at least 20% of pupils to achieve this standard by 2004, rising to 25% by 2006 and 30% by 2008.

Increase the proportion of 19 year olds who achieve at least Level 2 by 3 percentage points between 2004 to 2006, and a further 2 percentage points between 2006 and 2008, and increase the proportion of young people who achieve level 3.

Overall aim:  Narrow the gap in educational achievement between children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Improve the average (mean) score of the lowest 20% of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results, so that the gap between that average score and the median score is reduced by an additional 3 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion of pupils progressing by 2 levels in English and maths at each of Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 by 2011:

  • KS2: English 9 percentage points, maths 11 percentage points.
  • KS3: English 16 percentage points, maths 12 percentage points.
  • KS4: English 15 percentage points, maths 13 percentage points.

Increase the proportion of children in care at Key Stage 2 achieving level 4 in English to 60% by 2011, and level 4 in mathematics to 55% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of children in care achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent) at Key Stage 4 to 20% by 2011.

Other indicators of progress

Achievement gap between pupils eligible for Free School Meals and their peers at Key Stages 2 and 4.

Proportion of young people from low-income backgrounds progressing to higher education.

The numbers

Graph 1

ILO unemployed Economically inactive but want paid work
Higher education 4% 2%
A level or equivalent 7% 4%
GCSEs A*-C 10% 7%
GCSEs below grade C or no qualifications 12% 11%

Graph 2

Higher education 12%
A level or equivalent 25%
GCSEs A*-C 37%
GCSEs below grade C or no qualifications 56%