Job Quality Indicators » Training and Skill Development

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Skill Use

By and large, people want to feel that they are able to use their skills and abilities at work. However, more than one in four Canadian workers report that their job does not offer them this opportunity. As we’ll see below, this detracts from their job satisfaction. Furthermore, if Canada is trying to create a ‘knowledge-based economy’, then this gap between the skills available and actual skill use on the job should be cause for concern.


Skill Use on the Job: Many Employees Say Skills Not Put to Full Use

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

As the chart shows, just over one-quarter of employed men and women in Canada feel overqualified for the work they do, based on their experience, education and training. Such views are especially prevalent among young workers, many of whom work in entry-level or ‘student’ jobs in parts of the service sector that do not require extensive skills. But overqualification is not just a youth problem, as more than one-fifth of adults believe that their skills exceed what’s required in their job.


By Employment Type

Skill Use On the Job: Self-Employed Less Likely To Feel Overqualified

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

Feelings of overqualification are more prevalent among paid employees than self-employed individuals, likely reflecting the fact that the latter have more control over the work they do.


By Education

Skill Use on the Job: Most Highly Educated Feel Most Overqualified

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

Canada has a very well educated population, as 43 percent of people aged 15 or older now have a college diploma or certificate or a university degree. This represents a tremendous pool of skill and expertise. However, as shown below, 27 percent of workers who have a certificate or diploma feel overqualified for their job, as do 30 percent of workers who have a university degree!


By Region

Skill Use on the Job: Ontario and BC Workers Most Likely to Feel Overqualified

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

The share of individuals who feel overqualified for their job varies across regions. Individuals in Ontario and British Columbia are most likely to feel overqualified, while those in Quebec and Atlantic Canada are least likely. The spread of ten percentage points across the regions on this indicator deserves close attention. Educational attainment is one factor that warrants consideration in this respect, as the share of workers with a university degree is highest in Ontario and British Columbia (at 22 and 20 percent respectively) and lowest in the Atlantic region (at 16 percent). In short, levels of education are considerably higher in some parts of Canada, and skill requirements may have not risen fast enough to make use of these.


By Occupation

Skill Use on the Job: Untapped Skills Most Common in Sales, Services, Processing and Manufacturing

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

Levels of overqualification also vary significantly across occupations. Workers in sales and service jobs (e.g. cashiers, food and beverage servers, cleaners), and in processing and manufacturing jobs (such as those on an assembly line) are the most likely to report being overqualified. These jobs tend to be routine and repetitive, and consequently require less skill than other jobs. In contrast, feelings of overqualification are least prevalent among health care workers, social scientists (e.g. psychologists, lawyers, economists), teachers, managers, and natural and applied scientists (e.g. biologists, engineers).


By Outcomes

Skill Use on the Job: Effective use of Skills Associated with Employee Retention and Job Satisfaction

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

Clearly, skill use is a prerequisite for a good quality of work life. Individuals who feel overqualified are less likely to be satisfied with their job, and are more likely to look for work elsewhere. For employers, providing jobs that fully use a worker’s talents is central to retention strategies.

This ‘mismatch’ between what economists call a worker’s human capital (accumulated experience, education, and training) and the requirements of their job can arise for a number of reasons. The overall skill requirements of industry may not have kept pace with the rapidly rising level of education among Canadians. Occasionally, employers demand more qualifications when recruiting workers, even though the actual skill requirements of the job may not have increased (this process is called ‘credentialism’). It is also possible that within workplaces, the design of jobs has not kept pace with the increasingly educated and trained Canadian workforce, resulting in many workers not having the scope or authority to actually put their knowledge to use. In short, this single indicator of overqualification raises a host of questions – all worth discussing in depth -- about the appropriate public policies, employer practices and job designs that could reduce the mismatch between workers’ skills and job requirements. Putting employees already existing skills and abilities to better use can have beneficial effects on firm productivity, innovation, employee satisfaction and work commitment.

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