NFER leads new five-year study projecting employment skill gaps in 2035

Press Release

Wednesday 23 June 2021

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is leading a new five-year research programme projecting the demand and supply of essential employment skills up until the year 2035.

The Skills Imperative 2035: Essential Skills for tomorrow’s workforce, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will see NFER and its co-investigators work with employers, policy makers, and education leaders to provide practical insights and evidence to inform long-term planning for how future demands for essential employment skills can be met.

New technologies, coupled with major demographic and environmental change, are predicted to transform employment over the coming decades. Skills such as critical thinking, team work, problem solving and resilience are likely to become increasingly important for jobs across the economy.

Without action to help young people and workers develop the right skills that will be needed in future, there may be widespread under-employment and enduring social and economic problems. This may be one of the great strategic challenges facing our country in the next 10 to 15 years.

The nature of this challenge is not yet well-understood. However, this new strategic initiative, aims to fill this gap.

The five-year research programme will:

  • identify the essential employment skills that people will need for work in the future;
  • project the demand and supply of essential employment skills for 2035, drawing on findings from a new survey of essential employment skills amongst young people and adults aged 16-65 in England;
  • establish who is most at risk of not acquiring the necessary skills and being excluded from the labour market; and examine the potential welfare implications;
  • investigate how these skills can be developed through the education system and other mechanisms.


Findings will be published as they emerge in a series of reports from January 2022. They will be accompanied by events to launch and discuss recommendations, focusing on practical insights and evidence that will inform planning for how to meet the future demand for essential employment skills.

Commenting on the launch of the study, Jude Hillary, the Principal Investigator for the study and the Director of Quantitative Research at NFER said: 

“The UK cannot afford the widespread social and economic consequences of stumbling into the next 10 to 15 years without supporting the existing workforce and young people in education to develop essential employment skills.

“Instead we need a long-term strategic plan to support the development of these skills through the education system and other mechanisms to ensure people can work and flourish in their jobs, helping to secure a prosperous future for our economy and society.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Nuffield Foundation and eminent colleagues on this vital research project.”


Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation said:

“We established the Nuffield Foundation’s Strategic fund to encourage ambitious, multi-disciplinary projects that would re-frame the social policy agenda in the coming decades, with a focus on increasing well-being and opportunity for the most disadvantaged.

“This NFER research programme will make such a contribution by addressing pressing questions about education, skills and work in the light of major technological changes. These changes have the potential to be hugely beneficial for people and society, but only if we identify ways to ensure benefits are equitably distributed and to mitigate negative consequences.”