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Overqualified workers often lacking in basic reading, writing skills: study

The study suggests workers who were overqualified may lose numeracy and literacy skills on the job.

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One in eight Canadian workers with a university degree is working in a job that requires no more than a high school education, but often has weak skills in reading, writing and numeracy, according to a new study from Statistics Canada released on Wednesday.

Statscan researchers examined the relationship between overqualification and skills in literacy and understanding numbers. They found that nearly half the university graduates who were working in a job that only required high school had low literacy skills. Similarly, half the overqualified university grads had trouble working with numbers.

"It suggests that the numeracy and literacy skills make a difference," said the study's co-author Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté. "That is a massive finding of the study."

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To determine literacy skills, researchers tested individuals on their ability to interpret and synthesize text. To determine numeracy proficiency, individuals were tested on their ability to analyze data, work with patterns and mathematical relationships, among other items.

The study, which was based on 2012 data, defined "overqualified" as a university graduate who was working in a job that required no more than a high school education.

Researchers found that regardless of skill, humanities graduates had a greater probability of being overqualified than workers with a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, also known as STEM.

Among the lower-skilled humanities graduates, more than one-third were considered overqualified. In comparison, 11 per cent of STEM graduates were considered overqualified.

The study also suggested workers who were overqualified may lose skills on the job.

"It could also be that some university graduates are less skilled because they occupy a lower-skilled job and thus have fewer opportunities to use, maintain or gain skills than their counterparts in jobs that require more skills," the study said.

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Statscan looked at 8,550 working university graduates between the ages of 25 and 64.

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