Future of Work in UK – The demographic changes

The Youth Commission aims to find ways to improve education and employment opportunities for England’s 16-24-year olds. Its first report identified five key challenges:
• Better supporting 700,000 young people not in education, employment or training;
• Increasing the number of young people qualified to at least Level 3;
• Improving attainment in literacy and numeracy and other basic skills;
• Creating a diversity of higher level learning routes through life; and
• Support job quality, career progression, and economic security.

This report looks at the likely future changes in demographics and the labour market, which will set the context for meeting these challenges. Learning, skills and employment services will need to help young people to adapt to these changes.
Back to the future

Looking back at changes over the last forty years helps to illustrate the scale, nature and predictability of likely changes over the next forty years.

In 1978 24% of people worked in manufacturing, today it is 8%. The share of jobs accounted for by professional, scientific and technical activities has more than doubled to 9%, as has the employment share in accommodation and food service activities and human health and social work activities (to 7% and 13% respectively).

The type of work and demographics of the workforce have also changed significantly. Rising female participation in the labour market has helped cut the gender employment gap from 32 percentage points to nine, though a significant gender pay gap and occupational segregation remain. Self-employment has risen in all sectors and grown particularly strongly in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fishery and construction.
These are all big shifts. Some changes were predicted but many were not – flexibility and adaptability will be key for young people to adapt to both predictable and unpredictable changes.

Future demographic changes

Life expectancy is rising meaning that, while there are significant variations and inequalities, many young people will have careers spanning 50 years. An increasing number of young people will live to the age of 100.

The workforce is also likely to continue to become more diverse, with further increases in labour force participation by women and one in five working-age people, likely equating to some 1.5 million young people, having a disability.

These are significant changes with profound implications: longer careers mean young people will need to retrain and update their skills; increased caring responsibilities will mean more of them many want to work flexibly; a more diverse labour force means a greater need to tackle inequalities, including lower qualification attainment among young men; and a better qualified population overall will increase the disadvantages for young people with low or no qualifications.

Future labour market changes

There are many projections about the future labour market. None will perfectly accurate, but they do tell us about direction of travel. Most projections suggest strongest growth in higher level occupations, such as managers and professionals.

Demographic changes will mean continued growth in health and social care and job opportunities in skilled trades.

Changes in sectors and occupations, coupled with changes within existing jobs, imply an increased demand for interpersonal skills, cognitive skills, customer and personal service, English language, and management. This means young people will need a rising bar of skills needs and wider pool of skills to enter and progress at work and adapt to change.

The nature of work will also continue to change, though it can be affected by policy. A continuation of recent trends could mean by 2030: 750,000 young people being self- employed; 500,000 worried their hours could change unexpectedly; and 2.2 million in work requiring work at high speed most or all the time.


1. A more diverse range of young people will participate in the labour market, with further increases in participation among women, people with disabilities, and other groups. This makes it even more important to tackle education and employment inequalities among young people, or these will have long-lasting impacts.
2. Higher occupations and sectors such as health and social care are likely to continue to grow, and the nature of work will continue to change. This needs to underpin careers advice and support for young people.
3. There will be more opportunities for young people to work flexibly, with policy helping determine if this benefits both people and employers. Employment laws and the tax and benefit system need to support flexibility and security for young people.
4. Rising skills needs in jobs and a more qualified population will make a good foundation of skills ever more essential. Young people need a wider and deeper core of skills, including literacy, numeracy, digital, communication and team working.
5. Longer working lives and economic change mean young people will need to be adaptable and flexible. A wider and deeper core set of skills will help young people adapt. Learning and social security systems must reflect this ‘new normal’.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Tomorrow’s world: future of the labour market

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