The skills imperative 2035: New geographic breakdowns of labour market projections published

By Jude Hillary, NFER Head of Systems and Optimal Pathways Portfolios

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Data on how local labour markets are going to change have been published today by the Department for Education.

A number of megatrends are expected to shape the world of work in the future. These include Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as longer-term trends such as the adoption of technology in the labour market, and major demographic and environmental change. These are expected to change the role of workers, both in terms of the jobs available and the skills needed to do them.

Understanding what types of skills will be needed most for work in the future, and how this demand will be met, is essential. However, this is not currently well understood. The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) The Skills Imperative 2035: Essential skills for tomorrow's workforce research programme, which is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is exploring the nature of this transformation and its implications for the future workforce. Our aim is to engage with politicians, policy makers, industry and education leaders to better understand the scale of the challenge and to make effective plans to ensure the future workforce has the essential skills needed.

UK labour market projections

A key element of the programme is examining the long-run labour market and skills prospects for the UK in the future. Projections of the shape and composition of the UK labour market in 2035 were produced by the Institute for Employment Research (IER) at the University of Warwick and Cambridge Econometrics (CE) on behalf of the programme. These projections, which were published in October 2022, include detailed breakdowns by gender, employment status, sector/industry, occupation and qualification level.

The projections suggest that the economy will change slowly, but steadily and inexorably in favour of service sectors. By 2035, the structure of the labour market will have changed substantially. While the adoption of new technologies will lead to some job losses, faster technological change and improving the provision of social services will also create many more new job opportunities. Most of these new jobs - nearly 90 per cent - will be in ONS’s Standard Occupational Classification 2020 (SOC 2020) higher skilled groups 2 and 3 which comprise professional [1] and associate professional [2] occupations. Science, research, engineering, and technology professionals will experience the largest net increase in job openings, followed by health and social care associate professionals. In contrast, there will be reductions in employment levels for administrative and secretarial jobs and skilled trades. Elementary administration and service occupations are expected to see the largest employment decline by 2035, followed by secretarial and related occupations.

Geographic breakdowns

As well as understanding how the labour market in the UK as a whole may change in future, there is also much interest in understanding what may happen in smaller geographic areas for planning for more local future skills requirements. To help meet this need, breakdowns of The Skills Imperative 2035’s labour market projections that have been published today cover a range of different geographies. These include projections for each UK nation (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and for the English regions, which were produced for the Skills Imperative 2035 research programme. In addition, projections are being published for a number of sub-regional geographies - Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas, Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) areas and Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCA) in England. All of these new local geography projections have been published by the Department for Education on alongside other labour market data in their Local Skills Dashboard.

It is anticipated that this data will be of use to many different users. This includes:

  • Policy makers who will be interested in using the projections to review previous and future trends in employment to ensure skills provision is fit for future need.
  • LSIP bodies and FE/HE colleges, who may be collaborating to conduct their local skills assessment for local provision planning.
  • Employers / employer representatives, who may be looking at the future availability of occupations in different geographic areas.
  • Career guidance providers so that they can advise on likely future job demand in local areas.

The Skills Imperative 2035 team will also be drawing on this rich data as we move into the next phase of our research programme. In this phase, we will be looking at the demand and supply for essential employment skills in 2035, and from this, seek to identify where the skills gaps may fall and which groups of workers are most at risk of not having the necessary skills needed in future.

[1] Occupations whose main tasks require a high level of knowledge and experience in the natural sciences, engineering, life sciences, social sciences, humanities and related fields.

[2] Occupations that require experience and knowledge of principles and practices necessary to assume operational responsibility and to give technical support to Professionals and to Managers, Directors and Senior Officials.