The Skills Imperative 2035: what does the literature tell us about essential skills most needed for work?

Amanda Taylor, Julie Nelson, Sharon O’Donnell, Elizabeth Davies and Jude Hillary

03 March 2022

This literature review is the first report under The Skills Imperative 2035: Essential skills for tomorrow’s workforce research programme, which is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation.  Exploring the wide-ranging and growing evidence base, it sets the scene for our wider research study by bringing together what the literature suggests about:

  • What the world of work will look like in 2035?
  • Which essential employment skills will be in demand and how do we prepare?

Key Findings

  • Workers with low levels of education or in low-skilled/routine tasks continue to be at greatest risk from automation, particularly in areas such as production, manufacturing and administration. However, artificial intelligence will also impact higher skilled jobs.
  • Human reasoning and interaction will be important in expected growth areas (such as health, social care and education) as well as in areas more typically associated with the future, such as digital, technological and green industries.
  • Urgent action is needed to ensure future skills supply and worker employability, given that around 1.5% of the manufacturing workforce in the EU has already been displaced by technology (Oxford Economics, 2019) and 22 per cent of current workforce activities across the EU could be automated by 2030 (Smit et al. 2020).
  • The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) and exacerbated labour market inequalities, again underlining the need for action.
  • Problem solving/decision making, critical thinking/analysis, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation are transferable skills which will be in high demand in the next 15 years and beyond as technology becomes more embedded in the workforce.

Related Titles

Action needed to ensure future workers have problem-solving and critical thinking skills - Press Release

NFER leads new five-year study projecting employment skill gaps - Press Release

The Skills Imperative 2035 - More information about the research programme