Millions of workers may lack essential employment skills by 2035, report warns

Report warns up to seven million workers in England may lack essential employment skills by 2035, potentially impacting economic growth.
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A new study indicates that up to seven million workers in England could lack essential employment skills (EES) by 2035, potentially impacting productivity and economic growth.

Conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) as part of the “Skills Imperative 2035” programme funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the analysis uses a unique tool to compare the skills workers have with those required by their jobs, identifying significant potential gaps.

The report projects that the number of workers with substantial EES deficiencies could rise from 13% (3.7m) in 2023 to 22% (seven million) by 2035 without intervention. This increase is attributed to the growing demand for EES across the labour market, particularly in professional occupations such as scientists and engineers, which are expected to comprise nearly 90% of the 2.2m new jobs created by 2035.

Jude Hillary, NFER’s co-head of UK policy and practice, said: “The government should be concerned about the prospect of widening skills gaps and should incentivise employer investment in the development of their workforce’s essential employment skills. Allowing these gaps to widen could lead to the stifling of the country’s productivity and act as a drag on economic growth.”

Dr Emily Tanner, programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, highlighted the report’s findings: “The robust measurement of essential employment skills in this report provides compelling evidence of the importance of skills for individuals and businesses alike. It demonstrates the need for a lifelong approach to skill development as well as opportunities to put skills to use across all occupations.”

The report also notes that nearly one in five workers in managerial, professional, and associate professional occupations have substantial EES deficiencies. Conversely, those in skilled trades, sales, customer services, and administrative roles often have under-utilised EES developed in previous positions or outside work.

Higher EES levels correlate with greater job and life satisfaction, higher earnings, and increased likelihood of holding management positions.

Recommendations from the paper include that employers align expectations and skills assessments between managers and workers, support line managers to identify and utilise latent EES in their workforce, and that the government incentivises employer investment in EES development. The Department for Education (DfE) is urged to support education and training providers in assessing and developing EES effectively.

Ryan Fowler

Ryan Fowler is Publisher of Workplace Journal

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