Underemployment refers to people who are skilled, educated or experienced and who work in low skill jobs for which no greater qualification or experience is required. This category also includes part-time workers who would have preferred to be full-timers. This situation is different from unemployment in that the underemployeds are working but not at their full capability. The International Labour Organization (ILO) measure of unemployment assesses the number of jobless people who want to work, are available to work and are actively seeking employment. 

Underemployment is viewed from a variety of perspectives. It is referred to as over-qualification. It can be “Involuntary part-time” work, where workers who could (and would like to) be working for a full work-week can only find part-time work due to a lack of services. Underemployment can be also because of “overstaffing” where workers are not fully occupied while on duty. This evidently impacts on the overall performance of the organisation and saps the morale of the (underemployed) staff. Underemployment is in general an ineffective use of resources and underuse of economic capacity. However, it precludes the kind of non-work time done by firefighters, coast guards,etc who spend a lot of their time doing nothing but waiting and watching for emergency or rescue work.

The underemployeds have little job satisfaction. They are on the lookout for better jobs commensurate with their qualifications, skills and experience. They live in a dream world, wishing to move out at the first opportunity that arises. In the waiting for a better position they are not fully engaged in their current job and their performance is always questionable. The rate of mobility for this category of workers is high and this appears to be natural. However, there are many for whom the waiting is longer or the opportunity to move out does not come at all.

I know so many people who graduated in the late 1970s/early 1980s from India and accepted jobs at lower levels (clerical officer, nursing officer etc for which SC/HSC are qualification requirements) and could not move out of those positions; they have finally retired on grounds of age.

Underemployment is a significant cause of impoverishment and under-utilisation of labour. New graduates often face this situation, especially those who hold high quality skills for which there is low market demand. While it is costly in terms of money and time to acquire academic credentials, many types of degrees, particularly those in the fine arts and classics, are valued poorly by the market place. The problem is that if university graduates spend too long in situations of underemployment, the skills they gained from their degrees can atrophy from disuse or become out of date. And such a wastage is not supported by a developing country. An effective information/guidance system to provide the young ones embarking on university courses the essential information about job market and the country’s needs will go a long way to alleviate the problem of underemployment.

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