Urgent action must be taken to improve skill levels and how they are developed in order to boost productivity, wages and social mobility, according to a report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, supported by the CBI and the TUC.

The report, Growth Through People, published today calls for employers to lead the way, working with unions and the government, to ensure the UK has the skilled workforce needed to create better jobs and fight off international competition.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership and UKCES, said:

“The workplace is changing at a faster rate than it ever has done. It’s creating some terrific jobs with great opportunities for some people, but not for others, where it’s leading to lower pay for longer.

“Old career paths are either vanishing or becoming much harder to navigate. Encouragingly, new paths are emerging, but they are far from achieving the scale and accessibility that’s needed to make a difference to enough people and to the economy at large. To address that, the imperative is stronger than ever to establish quality vocational pathways as a preferred alternative for many. Up to 90 per cent of the current workforce will still be in work in the next decade.

“That’s where we will win or lose on productivity. And that’s why employers must lead, and be given the space and encouragement to do so. That needs to start early, with more integration between the worlds of work and education, and extend, via a new norm of earning and learning, into a lifetime of development, increasing productivity and pay.”

His views were echoed by John Cridland, Director General of the employers’ organisation the CBI and a UKCES Commissioner. He said:

“We must work hard to improve our education system to the benefit of all and help people overcome disadvantage.

“We also need to create better ladders to higher-skilled work which can help boost the UK’s productivity and lead to a rise in wages.

“Business wants to help build a more prosperous Britain where everyone has the chance to get on in life. This is the right thing to do to build a stronger and fairer society, and it makes good business and economic sense too.”

TUC General Secretary and UKCES Commissioner Frances O’Grady said:

“Far too many of the new jobs currently being created are of the insecure and temporary variety, often with scant access to training and on low rates of pay, when what working people and our economy needs are highly skilled, well-paid jobs with real prospects.

“When workers are stuck in low-paid jobs with little access to training, they can struggle to gain the confidence and skills they need to allow them to move into positions where they can start not just to make more of a contribution to society in the form of higher taxes, but are also more able to provide for their families.

“By investing in people and encouraging them to grow as individuals and workers, unions and employers are investing in the UK’s future. A coherent industrial strategy which involves both sides of industry assessing the skills needed to ensure individual sectors of the economy are at their most competitive will not only help UK companies become the best in the world but will also guarantee that our future workforce is not just highly skilled, but well-paid too.”

The Growth Through People report describes the changing shape of the workplace.

Over the last 20 years, as technology infiltrates most working practices, 4.6 million more high-skill jobs and 1.3 million lower-skill jobs have been created, whilst the number of roles requiring traditional mid-level skills, such as secretarial and clerical roles has declined. As a result, the authors say that the career ladder has become harder to climb and it is more difficult for the workplace to facilitate social mobility.

The report sets out five priorities for action over the next twenty years.

  1. Employers need to lead the charge
    Employers should lead on skills development and government should enable them to do so, by encouraging greater collaboration between businesses, unions and the workforce in regions, sectors and across supply chains
  2. Increased productivity equals career progression
    Improving workplace productivity is the route to pay and prosperity including better management, better job design and increased employee engagement
  3. We need more quality ‘earning and learning’ routes like apprenticeships.
    They should be a normal career pathway for many more young people, and a normal way for businesses to recruit and develop their workforce
  4. Bridge the gap between education and work
    Education and employers should be better connected to prepare people for work. Work experience should become an integral part of education for all young people.
  5. Real results, not exam results
    Success should be measured by a wide set of outcomes, including jobs and progression, not just qualifications.

David Abraham, Chief Executive of Channel 4 and Chair of the Industrial Partnership for the Creative Industries said:

“The Growth Through People strategy highlights the importance of industry-wide collaboration and employer-led partnerships in developing a skilled workforce. I am a passionate advocate of employers investing in training, skills and talent development to ensure the UK’s economy can attract and develop the broadest range of talent.”

Steve Holliday, Chief Executive at National Grid and Chair of the Energy and Efficiency Industrial Partnership said:

“I am hugely supportive of Growth Through People as it underlines the power of employer collaboration. Businesses working together in partnership with each other and with education is, I believe, the most effective way to build a sustainable UK skills system to reduce unemployment and fill the skills gap.”


Figures based on the UKCES Working Futures research data from 1992-2012

Interviews are available – please contact
Alex Curling (alex.curling@ukces.org.uk) 07748 090500
Julia Ruane (Julia.ruane@ukces.org.uk) 07909 688374

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) works with industry and government to help achieve better outcomes in how people get in and on in work and how businesses succeed through the skills and talents of their people.

UKCES is a social partnership led by 30 Commissioners who are senior leaders of large and small enterprises (including non-profits), further and higher education institutions from across the UK.

We believe that it is the talents and skills of people drive business competitiveness and economic growth.

Our unique contribution and ability to create impact comes through the insights of Commissioners, our authoritative research and our approach of working with key industry sectors and wider networks of business leadership to galvanise action.

UKCES is funded by government as a UK non-departmental public body and Commissioners are appointed by government ministers.

Download the report here.