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What policy makers, employers and educators need to know about UK skills

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Professor Mike Campbell's new evidence review for Foresight explores why we need to change the type and level of skills in the UK.

Skills are vital for the prosperity of individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Skill levels in the UK have improved in recent years and are likely to continue to do so. The proportion of adults qualified to degree level or equivalent or above is predicted to nearly double between 2002 and 2020. The proportion of adults who do not achieve 5 GCSEs or equivalent is likely to have halved in the same time.

Yet, despite this progress, there is concern about the UK’s skill levels and mix.

Skill levels vary with geography

There are wide geographical variations in the level of skills across the UK. For example, London has twice the proportion of adults qualified to degree level or equivalent and above as Liverpool, and half the proportion of adults with no qualifications.

And are often weak by international standards

Skill levels in the UK are still relatively weak by international standards, and this is likely to remain the case. The UK rests at 19th and 24th place in a ranking of 35 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries for low and intermediate skills respectively. These rankings will likely fall to 22nd and 28th by 2020.

Skills supply does not match skill demand

The UK also exhibits imbalances between the skills needed in the labour market and the skills that people have available. This has consequences for individuals and employers, and subsequently the economy.

We suffer from skills shortages and skills gaps in important sectors and occupations. Nearly 1 in 4 vacancies are hard to fill due to skill shortages and 1 in 7 employers report skills gaps in their existing workforce. On the other hand many unemployed and underemployed individuals have skills that do not meet the needs of employers.

The skills that people do have are often underused in UK workplaces. Some 2 million people in the UK have skills and qualifications which exceed those needed in their current role. The extent of this over-skilling and over-qualification in the UK is relatively high compared to international standards.

The skills that the UK requires are constantly changing due to technology; globalisation; changes in the shape of the economy in terms of sectors; the growth and decline of certain occupations; and changing consumer behavior.

For skills ‘supply’ to better match ‘skills’ demand in the future, the type and level of skills must keep pace with employer’s changing requirements.

How to better match skills demand with skills supply

Policy makers, employers and providers of education should take action to improve the level of skills and to change the type of skills available in the UK.

We must adapt to changing skill requirements to improve the match between the skills we have and the skills we need.

We need better connections between skills and jobs, between the worlds of education and work, and between education and employers.

We need greater transparency and the widespread dissemination of intelligence on UK skill needs to enable us all to make more informed choices.

Policy makers should use this intelligence to help establish priorities, inform policy choices and influence resource allocation.

Read the Skills and lifelong learning: UK's current and future skills mix report by Professor Mike Campbell.

Read Foresight's evidence reports on skills and lifelong learning for more information.

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