The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published the results of a major enquiry into future skills needs in 2010.  This was the first national Strategic Skills Audit for England.  It was intended to  provides “insight and foresight on skill needs and imbalances” and to identify “the sectors, occupations and skills that we need to prioritise to meet the changing needs of the economy and labour market.”

The Commission updated its findings in the 2013 Employer Skills Survey and found that the growth in vacancies that can’t be filled because people do not have the required skills has risen twice as quickly as the growth in overall vacancies.  More than one-in-five vacancies is proving difficult to fill for skills reasons, up from one-in-six in 2011.

The research highlights a number of key skills gaps which are explained below.  Mostly, these fall within higher skilled occupations including managers, professionals and associate professionals and technicians. But they also extend to some other areas such as personal services occupations and skilled trades as well as more generally important (so-called ‘generic’ ) skills.

The surveys draw attention to  a broad range of occupations including many within skilled areas such as science, technology and engineering (particularly in the healthcare and electricity sectors) as well as education professionals, senior care workers and skilled chefs.
Measured in terms of the number of hard to fill vacancies, the highest frequency of skills gaps across the economy as a whole are found in elementary, sales and administrative roles but this applies to some managerial jobs too. In larger organisations (above 500 staff)  a larger share of skills gaps occur in management, professional and administrative roles.  This should not be confused with a shortage of applicants for vacancies.  Rather,  it is a mismatch between the skills employers are seeking and those possessed by applicants or existing staff seeking promotion.

Economic change over the coming years is expected to increase the demand for many higher level skill because of their importance in gaining competitive advantage along with the flexibility to respond to future changes due to factors such as the effects of globalisation, technological advances and changing consumer demands.   In this context,  it is expected that there will be strong growth in the number of jobs for corporate managers, professionals and associate professionals with this group predicted to reach 47 per cent of the labour force by 2017.

However,  growth is also expected in lower skilled personal service occupations particularly when you factor in the need to replace workers who retire.

Key sectors

The strategically important sectors which currently show skill deficits include:

  • computing
  • electricity, gas and water 
  • construction
  • hospitality 
  • transport equipment manufacture

The sectors which are likely to grow in importance and create future skills needs are:

  • health and social care 
  • education
  • financial and professional services
  • retail 
  • wholesale and distribution

Emerging sectors identified as offering significant potential for economic expansion and in turn job opportunities include:

  • the digital economy 
  • low carbon 
  • advanced manufacturing 
  • engineering construction 
  • life sciences and pharmaceuticals


Strategic skills needs amongst professionals

~ Health and social care professionals are currently in short supply in a number of medical specialisms ( audiological medicine, genitourinary medicine, haematology, paediatric surgery), pharmacy and qualified social workers.

Science and technology professionals in pharmaceutical and medical technology industries and also in key parts of the traditional and advanced manufacturing sector.

~ In the increasingly important high added value markets there will be a need for very specialist graduate and postgraduate skills, especially for research and development activities such as biological skills (toxicology, pathology biochemists, pharmacists, clinical pharmacology, translation medicine), chemistry, physics, mathematics and statistics.

Scientists and engineers with additional specialist expertise in low carbon energy generation will be needed for large scale projects in the engineering/construction sector and energy generation industries.

Food technologists for the manufacturing and processing industries and also parts of the biotechnology sector will needed (possibly in smaller numbers)  to safeguard sufficient quantity and quality of food supplies and safety as the population expands.

career choice and career planningTeaching and research professionals across the education sector. The need to supply highly educated professionals for these high end industries means that  there will be strong demand for teaching and research academics in the fields of science and technology.

Urban planners and actuaries are in short supply for the professional and financial services sector. The volume of demand is relatively small but the training lead time for actuaries in particular is long.

Investment advisers in the financial services sector.  Increased demand for these (level 4) skills comes from attempts to strengthen processes within the industry following the recent financial crisis. A sufficient supply is hence essential to service delivery in the industry in future.

Strategic skills needs amongst associate professional and technical roles

Another key skills requirement will involve associate professional and technical staff in a broad range of sectors including:

  • manufacturing
  • process sectors including oil, gas, electricity, chemicals
  • life sciences and pharmaceuticals
  • automotive engineering
  • broadcasting 

These associate professional and technical jobs are likely to be required in large numbers to support the move by UK industries into higher value added markets. In addition, health and social care associate professionals and technicians are currently in short supply in a number of medical specialisms such as distinct areas of nursing (eg in operating theatres and neonatal intensive care units).

Strategic skills needs at Intermediate skill levels

There has been little change in recent years in the proportion of people taking up intermediate qualifications (level 3) and this is causing concern as some of the highest and most persistent skills shortages occur in many of these intermediate jobs (such as skilled trades) in existing and emerging sectors such as manufacturing, processes industries and engineering.

Whilst there are indications that, in some of the traditional sectors, the need for skilled trades will decline, many of these sectors have a largely ageing workforce and therefore a steady supply of skilled replacements will still be needed.

Demand for skilled trades is also likely to be boosted by new emerging industries such as green energy production with a need for more builders, engineering and electrical trades, and skills such as plumbing, joinery, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

Demographic change

It is expected that our increasingly  ageing population will lead to increased demand for care services with particularly significant volume of staff in care assistant roles, who will need greater understanding of ICT to support care users with assisted living technologies. Demand for care is likely to increase substantially, and associated with it, greater attention will need to be given to the quality of the care provided.

The proportion of migrants has tended to be high in this sector historically which has masked the full scale of the skills problem and acted as a disincentive to upskill the domestic workforce.

Sports coaches are likely to rise in numbers due to increased interest in active leisure pursuits following the Olympics and a more active ageing population.

Generic skills

The UKCES says there is a range of “pressing generic skills priorities” which are more pervasive across the economy.

One such priority is associated with the expansion in the volume of customer service roles. These are highly important to industries within the service sector including retailing, and are also expected to be increasingly associated with after-service and maintenance roles related to the manufacturing and digital economy sectors.

There is also a need for high levels of customer service skills in hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors handling overseas tourists visiting Britain.

Similarly, employability skills in team working, problem-solving, communication and essential literacy/numeracy are potentially critical among front line staff in these industries.


Low skill jobs are not going to disappear altogether

In addition to the high and intermediate skill needs identified above, the research has also highlighted areas that will continue to provide significant employment but which are anticipated to remain low skilled. These include sectors such as retail, hospitality and services involving care of the elderly and young.

Strategic Skills Audit (2010)

Employer Skills Survey (2013)