79% of those on furlough considering applying to jobs below their skill level

Stressed woman

Research released today by NTT DATA UK, a global consulting and IT services firm, reveals that 79% of people on the UK government’s furlough scheme are considering applying for jobs they are overqualified for if they cannot return to their existing employment.

The findings of NTT DATA UK’s survey of furloughed people suggest widespread uncertainty once the furlough scheme comes to an end.

The UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which began in March 2020, has been vital in protecting jobs and skills in the UK labour market.

The scheme has been extended multiple times, the latest extension being in December 2020, when the Chancellor announced the scheme was to continue until April 2021.

Each time the scheme has been due to end previously, fears of millions of job losses have surfaced. In September 2020, Britain’s automotive and aviation sectors were reported to be at risk of losing skills and R&D investment worth 5.9 billion to the UK economy without the continuation of the furlough scheme.

Ongoing uncertainty 

NTT DATA UK’s survey findings suggest fears of such losses have not dissipated, even with the recent extension of the scheme.

62% of respondents feared they would not have a job to return to after furlough. More than three-quarters (79%) were considering applying for jobs they are overqualified for, reflecting further pessimism about a post-pandemic job market.

People aged between 45 and 49 were most likely to consider applying for jobs below their skill level (84%), compared to 68% of furloughed workers over 50.

Those on furlough for a longer period of time were marginally more likely to consider lower skilled jobs (80%) than those who were only furloughed since December 2020 (74%).

In every industry surveyed, the majority of furloughed employees were considering applying for jobs below their skill level. But there was some variation between sectors. Industries where people were most likely to consider applying for jobs they are overqualified for included travel (88%), hospitality (86%) and automotive (83%). Fewer respondents from science and pharma (67%), manufacturing (70%) and healthcare (71%) were considering doing so.

Neil Trussler, Chief Delivery Officer at NTT DATA UK, said: “These findings are unsurprising given the disproportionate impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on industries such as hospitality and travel. Employers need to stay in constant dialogue with furloughed workers, providing clarity where possible on plans for the business and likely status of an individual’s job role when furlough comes to an end. Such communication will be critical in building employer-employee trust, and avoiding a damaging skills drain in the UK economy as workers look elsewhere for a job.”

Willingness to reskill

Uncertainty and concerns about job security may be impacting people’s willingness to learn new skills. A job market overflowing with workers overqualified for the jobs to which they are applying may be leading to some individuals seeing learning new skills as unjustified.

NTT DATA UK’s survey found that nearly a third of people (31%) have not been learning any new skills while on furlough. A tenth of respondents (9%) said they believed they did not need to learn new skills, while 16% cited lack of self-belief and motivation as their reason for not learning new skills.

Some findings on reskilling were more promising. Only a small proportion of respondents were held back from accessing online training because of lack of access to the internet (3%) or because they had no device to use for training (5%). Over half of furloughed workers (52%) said they were doing free training online, and 11% reported that their employer had provided them with training to do whilst on furlough.

Trussler concluded: “Even after mass vaccinations enable some form of normality to return this year, the scars of the pandemic will create a difficult job market. It is essential that UK workers are ready for this post-pandemic world. The economy has gone through a radical transformation, and the roles and skills requirements businesses are searching for have fundamentally shifted. Technology kept businesses going in 2020, and many will be keen to build on their success in the digital economy. UK workers should be adaptable, considering reskilling or upskilling to connect with these new job opportunities. Given the existing shortage of tech skills in the UK economy, those who learn skills in this area will be in high demand.”