Ethnic Minorities and the Graduate Labour Market

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 7
Words: 1998
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


The ethnic minority groups in the United Kingdom (UK) comprise mainly of the South Asians, Black-Caribbean, Black Africans, Chinese and other ethnic groups who are immigrants from the New Commonwealth. South Asian people make up the highest percentage of the ethnic minorities with Indians being the largest group (Owen, 2001, P. 1). More than one third of the ethnic minority is UK born, while the other share is constituted of immigrants’ inflow (Richmond, 2002, p. 707-727). The ethnic minority population in the UK has continued to grow since the 1950s. The growth in population of these groups can be attributed to the large number of births which results from the youthful age of the minority groups and continued immigration. These minority groups are highly concentrated in the large urban centers (Owen and Green, 2000, p. 5).

A high percentage of the whites in the UK are more economically active than people from the minority ethnic groups. The Black Caribbean of the minority ethnic groups are the most economically active. Men are more active in economic activities than women (Owen and Green, 2000, p. 8). In the recent years the impact of the minority ethnic groups on the economy, and the nation’s ability to sustain these groups has been largely debated (Hack-Polay, 2006, p. 3). Immigrants who form part of the minority ethnic groups are viewed as a burden to the economy. The unemployment rate for the minority is twice that of the white people.

Assumptions made by researchers in their studies

The studies involving the ethnic minority are based on assumptions and, therefore, their contribution to the understanding of the labor market experiences of this group is little. The studies concerning the minority groups’ participation in the labor market are prejudiced and biased due to the assumptions made. It is assumed that people from the minority group are less likely to be in highly skilled occupations. White employees are perceived to be more highly qualified than the minority group and as such earn higher wages than the minority group (Brennan and McGeevor, 1990, p. 57-76). This assumption has locked many qualified non-whites out of high status jobs. Most of them end up being used as cheap labor (Anthias and Yuval, 1995, p. 35-89).

Some of the assumptions propagated by some of the researchers are derived from the human capital theory. For one to access, grow and advance in the labor market he or she needs fluency in language, relevance of skills and education. The theory assumes the minorities have scanty knowledge of the labor market, and, as a result, unable or even unwilling to invest their human resources in the economy (Li, 2010, p. 7). This is biased since some people in this group possess a lot of knowledge and skills which the economy can utilize profitably.

Immigrants are assumed to be opportunists who fled from their countries in pursuit of dreams being too ambitious. Although immigrants may find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder, they hope to progress and better their lives of generations to come (Li, 2010, p. 7). What these researchers fail to put into consideration is that some of the immigrants are involuntary immigrants (British Refugee Council, 1990, p. 23).

Immigrants are also viewed as a burden to the economy. It is argued that the input of these people is minimal; sustaining them is a strain and detrimental to the economy. They overlook the skills and knowledge this group possesses thereby dismissing the benefits the economy would enjoy from their participation.

These white researchers hold the same negative attitudes that the natives have towards the ethnic minority. This has compromised their studies in a huge way. The anti-minority feelings cause behavioral changes and their interaction with the minority during their research may have led to their false conclusions (Constant and Kahanec, 2008, p. 2).

Reasons why the unemployment rates for ethnic minorities are high

Unemployment rate is higher for the minority ethnic group as compared to their white counterparts (Clark and Drinkwater, 2007, p. 278). Although there is a difference in employment and earnings of the different minority sub-groups, on average, the non-whites’ earnings are lower than the whites’. Generally, Indians and Chinese have employment rates close to those of the whites, while the Africans, Caribbean, Pakistanis and Bangladesh are way below (Bell, 2008, p. 4). Their ability to find and hold good jobs is low. Some of the factors contributing to the high unemployment rate and lower earnings are race, language barriers, cultural barriers, gender, attitudes of the natives, inequality in distribution of resources, previous qualifications are perceived as irrelevant or inferior, as well as the lack of information on opportunities.

The minority ethnic groups are discriminated against due to their race (Solomos and Back, 1996, p. 10-29). Racists’ beliefs, xenophobic attitudes, anti-immigrant feelings and racial prejudices are widespread in the United Kingdom (Phillips and Bowling, 2010, p. 2). When employment opportunities arise, a priority is given to the whites. The minority find it difficult to penetrate the labor market. This group is the worst hit by unemployment especially during periods of recession. The restricted interaction between the races makes acquiring human resources difficult. The restricted interaction may result from opposing or conflicting norms and cultural practices.

There are disparities in distribution of resources in the UK. This inequality kills the minorities’ ability to develop their skills and add value to their resources (Hills and Brewer, 2010, p. 1). Inequality in distribution of resources makes a nation weak. The nation’s resources are not shared equitably. Inequality has led to the emergence of social classes (Castles and Kosack, 1973, p. 22-38). Huge wages gap, disparity in level of education and technology contribute largely to these social classes. The whites have easier access to resources than the non-whites. This has affected the economic well-being of the minority groups. Consequently, the non-whites’ access to employment opportunities is limited.

The non-whites lack information about employment opportunities. Due to the disparities in the labor market the minorities have limited access to important employment information. The poor standards of living and restricted interaction between races make job search more difficult.

The majority of non-whites settle in and around the big urban centers where they prefer areas with people from their race (Jacobsen, 2006, p. 273-286). Settling among their own gives them a sense of belonging and security. In ethnically concentrated areas, the unemployment is high and wages are low (Clark and Drinkwater, 2007, p. 278-283). The difference in wages is relatively low though significant.

Most minority ethnic groups have English as a second language, and majority of them are not fluent in it. Those who seek to join education and training institutions are sent to the English departments without any career advice or consideration of their previous qualifications. These institutions are poor in equipping these minorities with job related training (Schellekens, 2001, p. 9). When recruiting this group, potential employers cite obstacles like inability to speak or write English to an acceptable standard, reliance on academic qualifications rather than work experience and difficulties in establishing the equivalent of overseas qualifications. Employers observe that this group rarely receives advice on career and job search (Schellekens, 2001, p. 8).

Culture is a major component of international relations and a factor in promoting creativity. Integrating social and labor markets in the UK has been a major challenge (Constant and Kahanec, 2008, p. 2). The cultures of the white majority, ethnic minority and the immigrants differ largely. The difference in cultural practices and belief systems create a cultural distance (Hofstede, 2001, p. 24-43). This distance strains the interaction of the different groups. Culture determines how people treat others which in turn influences the peoples’ performance.

The attitudes of the white majority towards the ethnic minority are a key determinant of the welfare of the minorities (Dustmann and Preston, 2001, p. 353). Attitudes impact the political process either directly or indirectly. In some instances the natives oppose the settlement of new immigrants. The attitudes of the natives are a major disadvantage to the ethnic minorities and immigrants in the labor market. The natives fear losing their jobs to these minorities. Although the government has continued to emphasize on the importance of economic immigrants into the UK, the migration policy is not very friendly (Constant and Kahanec, 2008, p. 2). Migration policy determines the immigrants to a large extent who come into the country and how they perform in economic activities. One could argue that the natives’ attitudes may be a result of these policies.

Length of residence in the UK is an important determinant of an immigrant’s economic performance (Zimmermann and Kahanec, 2008, p. 17). His first point of contact upon arrival and the place of settlement in the country determine his associations and subsequently affect the type of opportunities he is exposed to. The length of the period may also determine the information one has access to regarding the dynamics of the labor market. A minority born and raised in the UK may exhibit greater confidence during job search and interviews than a new immigrant (Blackwell, 1989, p. 33-68).

Gender has been a factor in employment as far as employment is concerned. Males in the ethnic minorities have an advantage over their female counterparts in employment opportunities in the UK. Employment rate is lower among women than in men. For the economically active gender determines what kind of jobs they can access. Most women find themselves in the service sector. The men from Pakistan are more likely to end up in self-employment. Earnings for Indian men are higher than for the Black men.


Ethnicity plays a major role in the United Kingdom labor market. Inequalities in wages are high in the UK. This has created a wide gap between social classes. Although the gap between wages of men and women has narrowed in the recent years, the unemployment rate still remains high among the ethnic minority (Hills and Brewer, 2010, p. 383).

The ethnic minority possess a wealth of knowledge which if utilized would contribute to the growth of the economy. Some immigrants are more qualified for jobs than natives (Bloch, 2002, p. 86-103). With some career advice and guidance, a lot of potential can be employed from these people (Marshall, 1992, p. 24-33). These people should not be viewed as a source of cheap labor. Firms should not engage them as a part of the firm’s strategy of minimizing costs and maximizing its profits.

Government policies may in some instance be responsible for the disadvantage the immigrants and ethnic minority face in the labor market. Policies that encourage the economic development for the minority group should be formulated (Al-Ali and Koser, 2002, p. 20-50). The nation’s laws should discourage discrimination and deal ruthlessly with racial discrimination. Educating natives on the importance of the economic immigrants on economic growth may reduce or eradicate some of the natives’ attitudes towards the minority. Regulatory reforms should be carried out, and changes must be made in the labor market to encourage employment opportunities for the immigrants and ethnic minority.

Individual aspirations and expectations of the ethnic minorities are responsible to a certain extent for the economic performance. Some native born minorities prefer to take any job rather than to be unemployed (Heath and Li, 2010, p. 3). This results in a lower income than that of the white majority who strive for better employment opportunities. The ethnic minority ought to be confident and seek out good job opportunities.

The government, white majority, immigrants and ethnic minorities are responsible for bridging the gap that exists in the labor market. The white majority especially employers have a major role to play in ensuring equality in job opportunities. Giving equal job opportunities and formulating anti-discrimination policy in the workplace will go a long way in firms encouraging employees to embrace the minority groups (Berthoud, 2000, p. 389-416). The minimum wage policy should be adhered to reduce the difference in average wages for the different groups.


Al-Ali, N & Koser, K 2002, New approaches to migration: Transformational communities and the transformation of home, Routledge, London.

Anthias, F & Davis N 1995, Racialized boundaries:race, nation, colour and class and the anti-racist struggle, Routledge, London.

Bell, L 2008, Increasing Employment for Ethnic Minorities: A Summary of Findings, National Audit Office, London.

Berthoud, R 2000 ‘Ethnic employment penalties in Britain’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, pp. 389-416.

Blackwell, R 1989 The social context of survival, Medical Foundation, London.

Bloch, A 2002, The migration and settlement of refugees in Britain, Palgrave, London.

Brennan, J & McGeevor P 1990, Ethnic minorities and the graduate labour market, Commission for Race Equality, London.

British Refugee Council, 1990, Refugee employment and training: a positive policy for the 1990s, BRC, London.

Castles, S & Kosack G 1973, Immigrant workers in the class structure in western Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Clark, K & Drinkwater, S 2007, Economic letters, 94.2, pp. 278-283.

Constant, A & Kahanec M, 2008, “Attitudes towards Immigrants, Other Integration Barriers, and Their Veracity”, International Journal of Manpower, 30 (1-2), pp.5-14.

Dustmann, C Preston, I 2001, “Attitudes to ethnic minorities, ethnic context and location decisions”, Economic Journal 111 (470), pp. 353–373.

Hack-Polay, D 2006, “Missed Opportunity: The underutilisation of forced migrants in the British economy”, Journal of Identity & Migration Studies, 2.2, pp. 43-66.

Heath, A and Li Y, 2010 Measuring the size of the employer contribution to the ethnic minority employment gap. Web.

Hills, J and Brewer M, 2010, An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel. Goverment Equalities Officeo, London.

Hofstede, G 2001, Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviours, institutions and cultures across nations, Thousand Oaks, Sage, CA.

Jacobsen, K 2006, “Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas: a livelihoods perspective”, Journal of Refugees Studies, 19.3, pp. 273-286.

Li, Y 2010, The labour market situation of minority ethnic groups in Britain and the US, A Journal of European and American Studies, 402, pp. 1-51.

Marshall, T 1992, Career guidance with refugees, British Refugee Council, London.

Owen, D 2001 Profile of Black and Minority ethnic groups in the UK, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.

Owen, D & Green A 2000, Race Research for the Future, Minority ethnic participation and achievements in education, training and the labour market, Web.

Phillips, C and Bowling, B 2010, Policing ethnic minority communities, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30.3, pp. 375-396.

Richmond, A 2002, “Globalization: implications for immigrants and refugees in Ethnic and Racial Studies”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25, pp. 707-727.

Schellekens, P 2001, English language as a barrier to employment, education and training. DfEE, London.

Solomos, J & Back L 1996, Racism and society, Macmillan, London.

Zimmermann, K & Kahanec, M 2008, Study on the Social and Labour Market Integration of Ethnic Minorities, Web.