Mismatching College Degrees and Careers

Background

In spite of the fact that people focus much attention on gaining their academic degrees, they often choose careers that are not related to their qualification or field of knowledge. Young college graduates often choose not to follow the previously selected career path associated with their specialisation or major (Cappelli 2015; Polachek et al. 2017). In the United Kingdom, 30% of college graduates were inclined to view themselves as mismatched to their job positions according to the results of the study completed in 2015 (Steed 2018; Universities UK 2015).

Thus, many people often seem to be working in areas that differ significantly from spheres associated with their major, qualification, or degree. This situation is related to the problems of skill shortages in some fields, or oversupply in others, both leading to economic imbalances (Cappelli 2015; Liu, Salvanes & Sørensen 2016; Polachek et al. 2017). Furthermore, some employees can occupy certain positions without actually being the best qualified for them, presenting additional barriers to human resource (HR) managers responsible for hiring competent and skilful employees who best match specified positions depending on their education and experience.

The key causes of this phenomenon vary quite considerably. They include the difference between the supply and demand for certain job positions and qualifications, unemployment rates, the level of development of certain industries, inappropriate student orientation at college, and young people’s uncertainty regarding their career choice (Abel & Deitz 2015; Figueiredo et al. 2017; Rowland, Ruth & Ekot 2017).

Graduates often choose not to work in the field associated with their major because they are not sure that they have made the right career choice. Some students come to understand during their first year of college study that their choice of profession is not appropriate, while other students may choose to receive a degree and then focus on another area of knowledge or activities (Rowland, Ruth & Ekot 2017; Vinichenko et al. 2016). Moreover, many students become frustrated by their career options after graduating from college because of low salaries or limited opportunities for being promoted to higher positions in a company.

Another reason is connected with the inability to find an appropriate position in the industry. One frequently occurring key problem lies in the fact that employment market trends and economic demands cause some professions to be extremely popular among young people; thus, young professionals may face strong competition in the industry they choose (Cappelli 2015; Zhu 2014). Other reasons that influence an individual’s decision also relate to the specifics of the employment market (Nunley et al. 2016; Vinichenko et al. 2016).

Still, researchers note that knowledge and skills developed in a certain field can be effectively used in adjacent areas, and the task of HR managers is to recognise these skills and seek to develop them in the context of the organisation (Grant, Maxwell & Ogden 2014; Netto et al. 2015; Zhu 2014). Considering these debates in research, it is possible to assume that both external and internal factors can influence individuals’ choice of a career unconnected to their major or degree. Thus, it is useful to discuss this problem from the perspective of the employee orientation, training and development approach applied inside a company as provided by the human resources management (HRM) department.

Problem Statement and Contribution

The mismatch of educational major and job can be viewed as a current progressive tendency in the employment market of the United Kingdom (Universities UK 2015). The general problem is that increasing numbers of college graduates are finding employment in fields unrelated to their majors or are taking job positions that are not associated with their degrees, resulting in skill shortages or oversupply in some fields as well as economic imbalances connected with the employment market.

The numbers of college graduates who choose jobs that are not related to their majors or degrees increases every year. As such, their potential contribution to companies’ development is not high, and their earnings are lower in comparison to other employees’ wages (Lee & Sabharwal 2016). They have no opportunity to efficiently apply their knowledge, and they lack the skills required for certain positions (Bondarouk & Brewster 2016; Nunley et al. 2017). This situation leads to an overall decrease in the quality of proposed services and production processes because of the necessity to invest more resources in training employees who have no specialised skills in a particular area.

As a result of selecting employment in an industry unrelated to a graduate’s major or competence, the employee can face certain obstacles associated with requirements for additional training needed to receive the desired job position. Moreover, this state of affairs creates additional challenges for HR managers and influences statistics related to employment in various fields (Polachek et al. 2017).

Researchers are connecting skill shortages to current social and economic problems directly associated with the issues of career planning and career choice for the younger generation in different countries of the world, including the United Kingdom (Grant, Maxwell & Ogden 2014; Keep 2017a; Keep 2017b). However, alternative views regarding the problem are also available, leading to the acknowledgement that the issue of mismatching majors and careers requires further investigation.

Thus, other researchers state that by choosing another career, college graduates can receive more opportunities and resources to develop their professional potential if they inappropriately selected their educational path (Prieto-Pastor & Martin-Perez 2015; Veth et al. 2017).

In some cases, college graduates who have highly developed skills in different areas and fields that are not closely related to their major can focus on finding a well-paid job in a particular field in order to realise their professional knowledge and skills (Cappelli 2015). Nevertheless, the range of cases related to this topic may indicate the presence of different tendencies regarding college graduates’ realisation of their knowledge and potential in their future life and selected career (Lee & Sabharwal 2016). From this perspective, it is important to understand what factors can influence individuals’ choice of job positions and career paths after graduation.

The specific problem is that graduates’ choices of fields differing from the areas they studied at college influence the specifics of HR managers’ work in terms of employee orientation, training and development for these employees, resulting in the necessity of working out new appropriate practices and requiring investment of more company resources to address matching individuals’ skills and companies’ needs.

Referring to this aspect of the problem, modern researchers are actively discussing the idea of skills utilisation in the literature on HRM as they seek a possible solution to the issue (Boccuzzo, Fabbris & Paccagnella 2016; Srimannarayana 2016; Støren & Arnesen 2016). Thus, when considering skills utilisation, it is important to understand how HR managers can address employees’ mismatched majors or degrees and careers in adapting orientation and training.

Skills utilisation is a comparatively new approach being studied and followed in the fields of employment and management in the pursuit of strategies that contribute to employees’ satisfaction, productivity and performance. Researchers and practitioners are interested in finding out what HRM practices can be used in order to contribute to effective skills utilisation in organisations (Boccuzzo, Fabbris & Paccagnella 2016; Lee 2015; Srimannarayana 2016; Støren & Arnesen 2016).

From this perspective, skills utilisation can be viewed as the degree to which employees’ abilities and competencies are successfully applied in organisational settings (Keep 2014; Keep 2017a; Keep 2017b; Kucel et al. 2016; Okay-Somerville & Scholarios 2018). If an employee is not qualified for a certain position, his or her skills cannot be used to their full extent, and HR managers need to pay attention to this fact.

The available research indicates that investigators have concentrated on discussing the phenomenon of developing a career after graduation from college. However, there is a gap in the scholarly literature on the topic that is related to the lack of research on what additional reasons for choosing careers can be determined by individuals, as well as how HR managers can react to the situation, with the focus on such HRM practices as employee orientation, training, and development. First, this study will contribute to the knowledge and theory on the problem of mismatched college degrees and careers of graduates in the United Kingdom.

In spite of the importance of this issue and its direct impact on the country’s employment market, this topic has not been widely discussed in the existing literature, requiring further investigation in the field (Grant, Maxwell & Ogden 2014; Netto et al. 2015; Nunley et al. 2016; Vinichenko et al. 2016; Zhu 2014). More attention should be paid to analysing specific trends typical of the UK employment market in contrast to the situation in other countries.

The theoretical contribution will be in identifying college graduates’ reasons for selecting careers in fields that differ significantly from the topics covered in their majors while referring to their unique personal perspective. In addition, the study will add to the HRM literature while determining how the application of certain HRM practices and approaches can be linked to the problem of selecting alterative career paths by college graduates. It is also important to note that this research will contribute to determining those practices of HR managers that can be viewed as mostly efficient in the course of addressing this studied issue.

On a related note, the practical contribution of this study lies in providing implications for HR managers on how to work with employees who are not qualified or trained for the positions they take because of mismatches in their college majors or degrees as well as associated experiences and professional skills. It is also important to state that the findings of this study can be used by HR managers to adapt their company’s employee orientation, training and development to the needs of this specific group of employees.

From this perspective, the study will make a significant contribution to HRM theory and practice in terms of addressing the issues associated with hiring and managing individuals who did not receive degrees or develop skills in the field associated with a particular job position. The results of this research can be widely applied to HRM practice in the United Kingdom because of the context of the research as it seeks to explain the choices made by employees mismatched to their positions and challenges for HR managers working directly with these individuals.

Aim of the Study

The aim of this qualitative research is to investigate the problem of mismatching degrees and majors of college graduates with their further career choices from the perspective of HRM and employee orientation in an organisation. It is important to identify the underlying causes and factors that can lead to the identified growing tendency associated with selecting job positions and careers that are not directly related to received degrees and qualifications (Keep 2014; Polachek et al. 2017).

The rationale for this research reflects the fact that the reasons that individuals may choose to develop careers in fields different from their area of study are not clearly understandable but can be related to both external social and economic factors as well as personal factors and motivation (Grant, Maxwell & Ogden 2014; Zhu 2014). In this context, a qualitative study is required to address the aim that has been set for this research as it will be necessary to collect and analyse subjective data on the issue under discussion to explain the phenomenon.

In addition, the rationale for the study is also found in the importance of focusing on the role of HR managers in working with employees whose college specialisations do not match their current job positions. Literature on this aspect is lacking, making it necessary to investigate the practices and strategies that can be used by HR managers to effectively administer the work of such employees with a focus on providing the required employee orientation, training and development.

The reason is that if employees’ qualifications and competencies do not match their obtained job positions, their satisfaction and commitment, as well as the quality of work, can decrease significantly (Boccuzzo, Fabbris & Paccagnella 2016; Lee & Sabharwal 2016). Thus, the study is directed towards examining the problem of mismatches in gaining degrees and studying majors and following careers with a focus on individuals’ experiences in this area and perceptions of the problem with reference to the views of both employees and managers.

Research Questions and Objectives

The following research questions should be formulated for this study in order to guide the research:

  • RQ1: Why do graduates often work in fields and industries different from the areas they studied at college?
  • RQ2: Why do graduates choose not to develop their career in the field related to their major and/or degree?
  • RQ3: How can HR managers adapt employee orientation, training, and development practices to the situation of mismatching college specialisations and positions in relation to their employees?
  • RQ4: How can employee orientation contribute to addressing and matching individuals’ and companies’ needs?

The objectives set out for this research are as follows:

  1. To discuss the reasons that graduates work in fields and industries differing from the areas they studied at college.
  2. To examine graduates’ reasons not to develop their career in fields related to their majors.
  3. To study how HR managers can adapt their practices to the situation of mismatching college degrees and positions.
  4. To study how employee orientation can contribute to addressing employees’ and companies’ needs.

Methodology

To address the research questions and objectives of this study, it is appropriate to apply a qualitative methodology. Based on an interpretivist paradigm, a qualitative methodology permits examining the details regarding certain phenomena and situations, and addresses “why” and “how” questions. Six participants are invited to the study with the help of the non-probability purposive sampling approach (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2016).

These participants are selected depending on their appropriateness for the study, for example developing careers in different fields, other than their specialisation, and experience in HRM, including employee orientation, training and development, and performance management. The data collection method chosen for the research is a semi-structured interview (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2018). This methodology choice is the most appropriate for collecting qualitative data in this study.

The participants’ answers are to be analysed using coding and thematic analysis techniques. It has been expected to determine that both external and internal factors influence graduates’ choice of careers in different fields without focusing on their major or degree (Collis & Hussey 2014). Furthermore, it has been expected that HR managers can effectively use employee orientation and training and development practices in order to help individuals apply their knowledge and develop their skills in any position they take.

Structure of the Dissertation

Chapter 1 of this dissertation has provided an introduction to the problem of a mismatch in college students’ degrees and qualifications or competencies with their further careers. In this chapter, the problem has been discussed in detail, along with the potential contribution of this study to theory and practice in the field of HRM. The research questions and objectives have been formulated in order to guide the development of this study.

In its turn, Chapter 2 of this dissertation presents the assumptions made and conclusions drawn after reviewing the literature on the studied topic with a focus on the theory that guides this research as well as researchers’ opinions regarding the examined problem. The methodology selected for this study is described in Chapter 3. The reasons for selecting the identified research design, a specific context and appropriate procedures to follow are provided. Much attention is also paid to describing the methods for data collection and analysis as they relate to the selected type of qualitative research.

Next, Chapter 4 presents detailed findings related to the study with a focus on the results of the analysis of the collected narratives provided by the participants during interview sessions. These narratives in the form of answers to the researcher’s questions have been evaluated with the help of the thematic analysis method. Chapter 5 provides a detailed discussion of the findings with reference to the existing literature in the field. Chapter 6 is the concluding chapter in this dissertation, and it provides a description of the general conclusions, the limitations of the study, the implications for theorists and practitioners in the area of HRM and recommendations for further research.

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