The UK is a global leader in research: our business and universities are producing world-class innovation, particularly when they work together. But behind the organisations lies a workforce comprised of individuals with innovation skills and attitudes.

A great deal of the 2019 State of the Relationship report is in reference to the 2.4% target requiring different levers to be pulled to increase domestic and foreign investment. But the target also needs a skilled workforce.

Does the UK have the innovation skills it needs; and if not, how can we develop both the capabilities and the capacity? Generally, there are three ways an economy or individual organisation can meet its skills needs: build, buy or borrow.


In the aftermath of the Industrial Strategy the UK is substantially increasing its capacity in innovation skills – the 2018 Autumn Budget increased the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) to £37bn. Further funding initiatives include:

Fund Amount
Future Leaders Fellowship (part of NPIF) £900m
Doctoral Training £100m
Turing AI Fellowships £8.5m
first wave
Rutherford Fund £100m


Buying skills in the labour market usually involves graduate recruitment. Our Collaboration Progress Monitor demonstrates that graduate employability in innovative sectors fell by 0.4% this year, bringing it below the fiveyear average. This deceleration is the continuation of an existing trend as you can see below. However, there was an increase of 1.6% in the total number of graduates entering sectors of innovative employment. A lack of supply makes the ‘build’ initiatives ever more crucial.

Share of graduates employed in innovative sectors
39.1% 38.6% 37.5%
2017 2018 2019


The mobility of researchers is, and will continue to be, crucial to UK economic success through innovation. The greatest barriers to this are:

  • Funding is insufficient, particularly for researchers to gain experience outside of academia. 
    To tackle this, a new Innovation Scholarship scheme from UKRI will fund secondment between sectors, with a focus on university-business mobility. This supports organisations to fill skills gaps while strengthening relationships and facilitating wider knowledge exchange.
  • Awareness is low and sectoral differences of language, expectations and function create information gaps around opportunities.
    konfer, the NCUB intelligent brokerage platform, allows users to search for subject-specific expertise from over 100,000 individual profiles across the UK, streamlining the borrowing of skills procurement.

Key to providing the skills needed to retain the UK’s global reputation for excellence will be increasing the talented and innovative researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds, specialisms, experience and sectors. It is encouraging to see the emergence of long-term talent strategies allowing universities and business to build, buy or borrow required skills, and the investment to realise such efforts.

This article first appeared in the 2019 State of the Relationship report published 19 June 2019.