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Future of Work in UK – 5 qualitative scenarios

To ensure effective provision of skills in the future, it is important to assess what the future labour market in the UK might look like. While quantitative projections are available, the future of the labour market is shaped by many factors, which are often characterised by great uncertainty. This can make planning effective policy intervention aimed at supporting skill development, for example through the right investments in education and training, challenging.

The objective of this study was to scan the horizon of the labour market over the next 15- 20 years to identify the drivers and emerging trends, and to create 5 different scenarios of what the labour market could possibly look like in the future. The purpose of these scenarios is not to predict. Rather, it is to help decisionmakers envisage different possible futures and support them in assessing which policy levers might be useful under which circumstance. Accordingly, scenario building can be a useful policy planning tool.

In addition, this research critically assesses the role of quantitative techniques in labour market analysis such as ‘Working Futures 2017-2027’ by Wilson and others (2020a).

The methodology comprised: an evidence-review of 130 sources, focussed on 6 specific sectors (construction, wholesale and retail, higher education, transport and logistics, health and social care, energy); 23 expert interviewees; qualitative scenario development and a scenario workshop.


Overview of the scenarios and their implications for skills in the sectors of interest

Five qualitative scenarios have been developed for the labour market using a structured approach to reflect uncertainties in the economy, the environment, technology and the wider societal, political and legal landscape, 15-20 years in the future.

The scenario narratives do not focus on specific sectors but provide a high-level view of the labour market, given the key political, economic, societal, technological and environ- mental drivers. The implications, however, of each scenario are outlined for each of the 6 identified sectors – construction, wholesale and retail, higher education, transport and lo- gistics, health and social care and energy.

Digital greening

Strong economic recovery and international co-operation, coupled with a high level of public spending to facilitate re-skilling, has led to a digital, green, and more inclusive society.

Construction: growth of non-traditional career prospects, demand for data analytical skills; Wholesale and retail: demand for programming skills, green skills and knowledge of e-commerce; Digital Greening: demand for skills in management, engineering, testing, communications, information security, computer science; Transport and logistics: demand for data analytical skills, skills to operate and repair vehicles remotely; Health and social care: demand for ICT skills and to operate remotely; Energy: demand for data analytical skills, knowledge of nuclear and renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and green skills.

Living Locally

Building on public sentiment, the UK has invested in greening its economy, leading to the reshoring of some activities and a more local sustainable approach to living and working.
Construction: shift towards skills related to electronic equipment, computer hardware, software, and programming; Wholesale and retail: demand for technical skills in operating and maintaining ICT equipment and for knowledge of e-commerce; Higher education: demand for skills in management, engineering, ICT, computer science; Transport and logistics: demand for skills to maintain infrastructure for zero emissions vehicles, to convert fuel systems, to model traffic flows and for low-skilled delivery workers; Health and social care: demand for human-machine interface skills, skills in assisting and caring for others; Energy: demand for engineering skills.

Protectionist Slowdown

A stagnant economy and a lack of investment has led to an increase in inequalities in many parts of the UK, including a digital divide and unequal access to education.

Construction: demand for technical skills (for example, to operate equipment; know-how of ‘green’ materials); Wholesale and retail: limited change in the skills required; Higher education: demand for short, tailored courses; Transport and logistics: limited change in the skills required; Health and social care: demand for skills in providing personal care to others; Energy: limited change in the skills required.

Continued Disparity

The economy continues focus on the Southeast of England. A skills mismatch persists, and high-skilled workers benefit from lifelong learning and greater flexibility, while the low-skilled experience increasing precarity.
Construction: unmet demand for technical skills; Wholesale and retail: limited change in the skills required; Higher education: limited change in the skills required; Transport and logistics: limited change in the skills required; Health and social care: limited change in the skills required; Energy: demand for knowledge of renewable energy.

Generating Generalists

While the direct economic impact of the pandemic was relatively short-lived, there has been an increased emphasis on transferable vocational skills to ensure resilience in a rapidly evolving world.
Construction: specialised skills needed from the agile workforce; Wholesale and retail: demand for technology, problem-solving and inter-personal skills; Higher education: demand for essential skills (problem-solving, inter-personal skills); Transport and logistics: gaps in specialised, technical skills (for example, repairing electric vehicles); Health and social care: demand for high-skilled roles (diagnosis, treatment alternatives, drug properties); Energy: demand for knowledge of and skills using energy efficient technologies.

Key policy implications

Qualitative scenario planning acknowledges that the future cannot be predicted and may evolve in different ways. From this research, the following implications can be drawn:

  • ICT/digital skills are critical to the future of most jobs with the emergence of specialist skill areas. Introducing STEM subjects for longer, incorporating these skills alongside regular studies and investing earlier in digital skills in the education system would support this skills need.
  • Any future vocational education and training system needs to provide clear and more flexible pathways so that workers are well aware of training options and can make informed decisions about what to do and how to do it.
    More flexible, portable training with corresponding micro-credentials could be accompanied by accreditation and licensing of providers to mitigate the risk in quality of qualifications obtained in this way.
  • A broad range of stakeholders should be involved in developing courses and training to meet local labour market demand.
  • Education and training system also need to teach broad concepts and foundation skills (for example communication, networking, problem-solving, literacy and numeracy skills).
  • Employer investment in training will be increasingly important, but employer unwillingness to train their workers will continue to be a barrier. Incentives for life-long learning, both for the employer and employee, will be increasingly important, as will information on the benefits and options outlined.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Labour market and skills demand: horizon scanning and scenarios – GOV.UK

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