Almost a third of Malaga province's workers are overqualified for the jobs they do

Almost a third of Malaga province's workers are overqualified for the jobs they do

Spain is the leader in the European Union with 31.3% of its employed occupying job positions that are below their academic qualifications

Nuria Triguero


Wednesday, 1 May 2024, 10:56


"JASP: Young but overqualified" (JASP: Joven aunque sobradamente preparado) said an advertisement from the 1990s that gave a name to a generation, which they dubbed the "best educated in the history of Spain".

Subsequent generations - millennials and Z - have surpassed Generation X in terms of educational level and are facing the same problem when it comes to looking for work. A problem, that of over-qualification, in which Spain is the leader in the European Union: 31.3% of its workers occupy positions that are below their academic qualifications. Malaga province is slightly above this national average, with 31.9%, according to data from the CaixaBank Dualiza vocational training observatory.

Who doesn't have acquaintances, friends or relatives affected by the frustration of not working "in their own field"? Psychologists in call centres, nursery school teachers with nursery assistant contracts, graduates in business administration and management working as cashiers in bank branches, historians and philologists attending to the public in large department stores... This also extends to the public sector, which functions as a refuge for professionals who, fed up with the lack of opportunities or working conditions in certain sectors, are preparing for competitive examinations for the basic levels of the civil service.

The growth of the overqualified rate in the past decade in Malaga does not allow us to say the problem is on the way to being solved. In fact, in 2023 it was higher than in 2014 (the first year the data was available). The figure goes up and down slightly but is usually always close to 30%. The highest level was in 2018 (32.7%) and the lowest in 2015 (28.5%).

The causes of this problem have been pointed out in reports such as that of the Knowledge and Development Foundation: "The mismatch has its origin in the lower percentage of highly qualified occupations in Spain, which causes the mismatch between the level of qualification of the population in relation to the demand of the productive structure [...] The Spanish university has great potential in the training of talent, but its capacity should be aligned with the needs of the current productive sector and imagine those of the future. If this is not done, a series of mismatches arise in the graduate labour market insertion process that hinder their incorporation into the market: a greater number of graduates from the system compared to the demands of the market, graduates in areas that do not fit the reality of the business fabric, lack of coherence of the curriculum with what the profession requires, and finally, there is a fourth aspect, called mismatching, in those graduates who find work that does require the level and skills of a university degree but which is not theirs".

Other experts describe how the problem of over-qualification cascades down: "Graduates are displacing workers with secondary education into basic occupations (crowding-out effect)", said the Foundation for Applied Economic Studies (Fedea) in one of its latest quarterly reports on the labour market.

Daniel Lorenzo, director of external relations at human resources company Randstad, pointed out a paradox in the Spanish labour market: "The percentage of young people with a university degree is above 50%, above the European average, while 23% of all young people have low qualifications, also above average. At the same time, 23% of all young people have low qualifications, also above average, and the weight of intermediate levels of training is the lowest in the EU. What ends up happening? That there are young people with high qualifications who occupy positions with low and intermediate qualifications".

Logically, this is a problem that affects workers with a higher level of education to a greater extent: both university graduates, who suffer an overqualification rate of 42.3%, and vocational training graduates, with 42.1%. Particularly noteworthy is the case of higher vocational training, where this rate rises to 66%.

Depends on the training branch

But more than the type of studies, what determines the fate of graduates in the labour market is the field of study they choose. It sounds like a cliché, but data backs it up: the skills match of graduates in health and technology fields is twice that of those who chose arts, humanities or social sciences disciplines.

Two studies carried out by the IECA - those on the labour market insertion of graduates in public universities and vocational training in Andalucía - confirm this. "In the case of university graduates of the 2020-2021 graduating class who were residents in Andalucía at the beginning of that year and one year after graduating work in Andalucía as employees, their rate of competence adequacy for the job is 49%," said the authors of this database, who added that graduates in the field of health and social services "obtain the best rate of adequacy one year after graduation, which reaches 84.6%". "In addition to this area, graduates in agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry and veterinary medicine; mechanics, electronics and other technical training, industry and construction; natural sciences, chemistry, physics and mathematics; and information and communication technologies (ICT) exceed 50%. On the other hand, graduates in the fields of business, administration and law have the lowest matching rate," they pointed out.

In the case of vocational training, graduates in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) "obtain occupations in the higher professional categories ("graduates, technicians, assistants and administrative managers") in a proportion of 44.3%, a value more than 30 percentage points higher than that obtained in this group of categories by any of the other fields of study", according to IECA. At the other end of the scale, 38% of graduates in the field of agriculture, livestock, fishing, forestry and veterinary science are employed in the lowest professional category ("labourers and under-18s") one year after graduation.

This is happening, Lorenzo said, in a context of a "talent deficit": "In Spain we have more than 2.7 million unemployed and, at the same time, there are more than 150,000 unfilled vacancies".

The presence of overqualified workers also varies greatly depending on the sector. Financial (with 52.9% of workers performing functions below their educational level), auxiliary services (with 50.2%) and public administration, with 42%, are well above the average. Special mention should be made of domestic staff, as almost 75% of them have a qualification which in theory should enable them to work in a higher level position. The hotel and catering industry is slightly above average, with 34.4%. In the middle range (around 30%) are the information and communications sector, real estate, commerce, industry and leisure. And below the average are education, health, transport, construction and professional, scientific and technical jobs.

Women and youth

Gender and age are also important variables. Women in Malaga suffer an over-qualification rate of 38.8%, 13 points higher than that of men (25.8%), according to the data. Studies such as the one by Fedea suggest this gap is partly due to the particular difficulty for migrant women with university degrees to find work according to their qualification.

In terms of age, it is the 16-25 year-olds who most often have to settle for jobs below their qualifications: 36% of all employed in this age group. In the next age group, between 26 and 45, this rate drops slightly to 34.4%. And the oldest employed (aged 46 to 64) are those who enjoy the best match between training and professional level, with 28% over-qualification.

Javier Blasco, director of the Adecco Group Institute, said: "In our country, there are many jobs on offer where vocational training would probably be sufficient to meet the requirements of the various tasks that make up the position, but which are accessed by university graduates who are not always going to have the option of professional promotion that allows them to adjust their qualifications to new tasks with greater requirements". "What we are talking about is a lack of adjustment between the training on offer, especially in universities, and the needs of the production model," said the expert, who added this situation "is not only occurring in business and humanities degrees, but will increasingly occur in technical and digital degrees, especially due to the increase in the training on offer and the adaptability of vocational training".


Solutions to the problem: "Public-private collaboration is necessary, not only in the field of active employment policies, but also in the adjustment in the educational field, including advice and guidance to young people before they decide on their academic path, as well as to unemployed people and workers who want to retrain in order to improve their working conditions," Blasco said.

Daniel Lorenzo said Spain needs to "adapt the training offer to the needs of the market", given that on the one hand there are degrees "with an insufficient number of graduates to cover the demand for professionals, such as STEM and health sciences", and on the other hand, there is a problem of employability in the social sciences and humanities: "art history, philology, fine arts, teaching, psychology, sociology... many graduates are leaving these degrees and there are not enough places to absorb them", said the Randstad executive, who in the short term is committed to "reorienting professionals towards areas of high demand".

Lorenzo believed up-skilling and changing careers will become easier and more common with the trend towards increasingly hybrid and changing professions and the concept of "lifelong learning". "Six out of ten workers will need to update their skills in the next three years and 44% will need to retrain to stay in the labour market," he said.

"Before becoming a teacher, I was a waitress, an administrative assistant and a ground hostess. What I have studied does not define me"

Cristina Río-Miranda studied Hispanic Philology, so her natural destination was teaching. But she didn't want to reach that goal so soon. "I could have prepared for competitive examinations as soon as I finished my degree, but I am a restless person and I dreaded spending my whole life doing the same thing, so I started to try different things out," she explained. So it wasn't until she was 38 that she passed her secondary school exams; until then, this Malaga native, now 43, worked as a waitress, administrative assistant and ground hostess for Iberia and other companies at Malaga Airport.

This last job lasted longer than she planned: "Although it was not my dream job, it was comfortable and the conditions were good. Besides, there were four years without competitive examinations. At the airport, she explained, she met "many people with degrees and higher modules who have ended up working there, either temporarily or permanently". Lawyers, computer scientists, many teachers, graduates in history and other arts degrees? In fact, she added, "many end up staying even though it wasn't their initial plan because they settle in and are too lazy or afraid to change jobs".

For Cristina, working in jobs below her qualifications has been «voluntary and temporary», so she does not consider herself «a victim of the system». «My parents told me I was crazy, they didn't understand that I had to go round in circles to end up in the same place, but I am not defined only by what I have studied», she argues. However, she acknowledges that in most cases overqualification is not chosen. «In the tourism industry, there are people who are real victims and will never be able to leave. Especially in the hotel industry, where conditions can be very bad», he explains.

Now that she is working «in her own field», Cristina is satisfied, but «the way teaching is going» she does not rule out a change in the future: «I am attracted by the idea of retraining in computational language, which is a new discipline in which my world, which is linguistics, joins the world of technology», she suggests.

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