UK businesses will need an additional 11 million graduates by 2035, report suggests

this is a side by side image. On the left side, there is an image of someone graduating. They are wearing the traditional cap and gown and those are in blue. On the right sight, there is an image of someone working in a medical lab. They are wearing a white lab coat and blue gloves while looking into a microscope.

A report published by Universities UK (UUK) found that more than 11 million extra graduates will be needed to fill jobs in the UK by 2035. This is in addition to the current 15 million graduates already employed.

It’s thought that by 2035, up to 88 per cent of new jobs will be at the graduate level – meaning they require a completed university degree programme. The report also highlighted that the STEM, education, healthcare and business sectors are set to see greater demand, with each sector needing at least one million new professionals in the coming decade. 

The report, titled Jobs of the Future, also found that graduates have more career options, are more likely to find employment and have a higher earning potential than non-graduates. In England alone, the median salary for a graduate is £10,000 higher than non-graduates.

As tech advances, so does the need for new jobs

Globally, tech-related roles are expected to boom over the next five years, in part due to the shift to renewable energy. Digitally-enabled jobs like e-commerce, digital transformation and digital marketing and strategy are also expected to grow by four million positions globally by 2027.

Commenting on the report, Vivienne Stern MBE, chief executive at Universities UK said: “From health and tech to digital skills and education, university graduates are a vital component to the success of the economy. 

“But it is important that we are given the tools to continue to meet this need – and to ensure that higher education is affordable and accessible while maintaining the high level of education our institutions currently provide.”

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AI and an underqualified talent pipeline

Elsewhere in the report, the UUK’s survey of FTSE350 senior figures and talent acquisition specialists shows that despite the rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and the threat it poses to jobs, 51 per cent of respondents say graduates with critical thinking skills will be more important to the workforce than ever should AI be used to automate more white-collar jobs.

While the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has been stressing the importance of maths, the survey of actual business leaders found that 50 per cent believe arts and humanities graduates will be crucial to helping businesses get the most out of AI tools.

Stern says that while there are new concerns around automation and AI tools, “the trends we are seeing suggest that amid a turbulent jobs market, having a degree will be the best way of succeeding.” 

“Applied creativity and critical thinking are two key areas which will be needed to harness and adopt AI tools – and employers are already looking ahead to recruit those with these skillsets.”

The report also revealed that the UK workforce is woefully under-qualified, with more than 25 per cent currently under-skilled for their current job roles. Business leaders are already taking notice with 63 per cent of leaders surveyed saying that companies will need to work more in tune with universities in the UK to develop a talent pipeline that enters the workplace properly qualified to do their jobs.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of senior figures surveyed said that UK businesses will need to lean on UK university graduates to respond to skills gaps and the challenges of an ever-evolving workforce. 

Stern concludes: “The many years of unbroken growth in demand for graduates means we are playing catch-up to give our employers the tools they need to succeed.” 

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