Machine learning uncovers large hidden job market for PhD graduates

Image: ANU, flickr
6 December 2017

Researchers have developed machine learning to scan tens of thousands of job ads and found a large hidden job market for PhD graduates.

The project, led by The Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO's Data61, developed a job-searching machine to help universities prepare graduates for non-academic work and show industry the value of PhD graduate research skills.

One of the lead researchers, Dr Will Grant from ANU, said the machine read about 30,000 job ads, many of which were for non-academic work, and assessed the level of research skills required for each job.

"The PhD was originally designed to train the next generation of academics, but most graduates today find jobs outside of academia," said Dr Grant from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

"The machine found a large hidden job market in Australia for people with PhDs, with half of the job ads scanned specifying the need for a high level of education, including research skills."

Dr Grant said the job market was considered hidden because employers did not use 'PhD' as a keyword in ads.

He said highly skilled researchers working in a wide variety of industry sectors were important to Australia's future economic prosperity.

"We taught the machine to analyse job ads and tell us what skills were most important to employers. The problem is that industry employers in Australia - particularly in manufacturing, transport, logistics, marketing and communication - may not be aware that PhD graduates have the skill set they're looking for," Dr Grant said.

He said Australian universities must do more to prepare PhD graduates for work outside of the higher education sector, while employers needed to be more receptive to people with PhDs.

"PhD programs still tend to favour skills required for an academic career over those demanded by industry," Dr Grant said.

"There also seems to be a lack of trust in the PhD qualification as producing work-ready employees."

Co-researcher Adjunct Professor Hanna Suominen, a natural language processing expert from CSIRO's Data61, co-invented the machine learning algorithm and is optimistic about the potential of this tool to help find work for PhD students.

"Our researchers will continue to develop the machine into a web portal to support PhD graduates in their search for work," Dr Suominen said.

The machine could be refined and used to track changes in industry demand for Australia's research skilled workforce.

"It has the potential to connect PhD graduates with ideal jobs they may not have otherwise come across or considered."

The project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and the job-search company SEEK Limited provided raw data.

The research team has expertise in computer science, research education, linguistics and social science.

Read the project report with research findings.

Updated:  6 December 2017/Responsible Officer:  General Manager/Page Contact:  Science Web Services