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How many future jobs will require higher level skills?

Kathleen Henehan

Kathleen Henehan

Former ​Policy Analyst
Universities UK
Graduation from behind



Yesterday, the UK Commission on Employment and Skills published the latest report in their Working Futures series, projecting occupational trends from 2014 to 2024. And, despite recent economic challenges, UKCES project steady employment growth: in the ten years to 2024 we can expect to see over 14 million job openings, 13 million of which are due to retirements (what UKCES dub ‘replacement demand) and 1.8 million of which are expected to be newly created jobs (‘expansion demand’).

How many of these jobs will require higher level skills and qualifications? According to UKCES, by 2024, 46% of all UK employment will exist within highly skilled occupations, defined as those that fall within the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) categories 1-3. High-skilled occupations will comprise more than half (7.6 million) of the 14 million additional openings and account for over 70% of all newly created jobs in the UK economy. 

Skills chart 

As UUK reported in December, graduates are critical not just for filling these highly-skilled roles but also, for upskilling and creating entirely new high skilled occupations (i.e. ‘expansion demand’). Key academic research found that 40% of graduate-level employment growth between 1997 and 2012 was due to occupational upskilling rather than the expansion of pre-existing graduate occupations. Talent begets more talent, leading to a more competitive economy.

Of course, the recent UKCES findings also pose challenges to HE and wider education sector, as well as to businesses and government. The UK economy suffers from a number of skill shortages, particularly within high-skilled technical roles. The latest UKCES research further confirms demand for such high-level technically skilled applicants: in the ten years to 2024, managerial and professional roles within industries including construction, electricity and gas, accommodation and food, wholesale and retail trade, arts and entertainment and IT are projected to grow by at least 20%. Meeting this demand will require continued collaboration, between schools, universities and businesses, with degree apprenticeships, recently highlighted by UUK​ playing a potentially vital role.

The latest edition of Working Futures also explains how the drivers underlying employment change have shifted over time; while in decades past occupational change was largely propelled by the rise and decline of particular sectors (e.g. professional services vs. manufacturing), between 2014 and 2024 we can expect these shifts to be driven by technological advancements and the changing way in which we work. While, as UKCES noted, this change has in the past tended to favour high skilled occupations, it is crucial that graduates leave universities with the core skills and competencies that enable them to both adapt and advance in the face of such change.

As illustrated in the chart above, however, technological change and automation have been less kind toward middle-skilled roles, such as secretarial, administrative and skilled trade occupations, which are projected to experience continued net job losses over the next decade. Universities, further education colleges, businesses and government should work together to ensure that those affected have access to innovative and high-quality opportunities for continuing professional development: this talent should not be let to waste.

All in all, the UKCES figures indicate continued demand for a diverse, highly-skilled and well qualified labour force; it is up to schools, colleges, universities and businesses to meet this challenge.​

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