This briefing paper analyses the latest projections on the changing shape of the jobs market in the UK to presents a more complex picture of the skills needs of our economy.

In their desire to 'win the global race', policymakers have focused on increasing the number of graduates in the economy. However, winning the race will require more than simply expanding general higher education.

Our analysis indicates that, over the next decade:

  • Business growth will indeed lead to the creation of more professional jobs.
  • The number of jobs created as a result of people retiring or leaving the workforce will dwarf the number of jobs created as a result of business growth, and will be in very different occupations.
  • In absolute terms there will continue to be a large number of jobs created in the bottom half of the occupational ladder. Between 2012 and 2022 just over one-third of all jobs will be created in high-skilled occupations, with the remainder created in medium and low-skilled occupations.
  • A large number of jobs will be created in sectors that tend to rely on vocational education and qualifications. For example, there is set to be an additional 3.6 million jobs in medium-skilled occupations by 2022 – including associate professionals in health care, skilled trades and public service professionals – all of which employ large numbers of people with level-3 and level-4 vocational qualifications or apprenticeships.
  • The creation of high-skilled jobs has not kept pace with the very rapid increase in education and qualifications. A fifth of all workers in low-skilled occupations have a higher education qualification.
  • In some sectors of the economy there is a mismatch between the skills and qualifications needed by employers, and those held by the workforce. For example, 39 per cent of vacancies in skilled trades are caused by skills shortages, and there are emerging shortages in areas such as health and care professionals.

In light of these findings, it is clear that Britain needs stronger and better-quality vocational education, coupled with new business models that make better use of workforce skills and enable companies to move up the value chain to take advantage. This will require employers to engage in a more meaningful way in vocational education and skills development than they do currently.


  • Download annex: data used in analysis published in Winning the global race