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New NFER research projects essential skill needs for workers in 2035 

A new study from NFER highlights the growing need for essential skills to support individuals to thrive across their lives - and projecting that 7 million individuals might lack the essential skills they need to do their jobs by 2035. 

The new report, part of the Skills Imperative 2035 series, warns that the proportion of workers in England with ‘substantial’ essential skills deficiencies (when the skills requirements of their jobs surpass the skills they possess) could jump from 13% (3.7 million) in 2023 to 22% (7 million) by 2035.  

With professional occupations that require higher essential skills projected to make up almost 90% of the new jobs that will be created by 2035, essential skills gaps are likely to become more pronounced if urgent action isn’t taken. 

Strengthening the case for essential skills

The NFER study bolsters research from Skills Builder Partnership, demonstrating the connection between higher levels of essential skills and higher job and life satisfaction, as well as higher earnings.

NFER’s report also shows how individuals with higher essential skills are more likely to be in management positions.

Essential skills gaps

Essential skills are overwhelmingly recognised as important for careers by the UK working population, with a higher proportion (92%) identifying them as vital than almost any other skill. Despite this recognition, the NFER report highlights how skills deficiencies may affect workers’ careers over the next decade. At the same time, some individuals also possess essential skills that are under-utilised.

The Skills Imperative 2035 report highlights how different types of jobs may be affected, including that: 

  • Nearly one in five workers in managerial jobs (e.g. HR managers and directors), professional jobs (e.g. accountants)  and associate professional occupations (e.g. engineering technicians) have substantial essential skills deficiencies.
  • Workers in jobs such as skilled trades, sales, customer services and admin are more likely to have under-utilised essential skills which they have developed in previous roles or outside of work. Tapping into these latent skills will become increasingly important for employers, individuals and the economy, given the crucial role essential skills will play across the workforce in 2035.

The need for action

The report emphasises an urgent need for action from government, institutional funders and employers to create the opportunities UK workers need for their future careers. 

Skills Builder Partnership is made up of over 900 organisations across education and employment who are at the forefront of assessing and building essential skills. We’ve seen through our work that it is possible for everyone to bolster their essential skills, and that the Universal Framework and tools like Benchmark and Launchpad can be invaluable in supporting individuals to understand their own skills and boost them further.

Tom Ravenscroft, Founder and CEO of Skills Builder Partnership welcomed the new report: “Our mission is to ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to succeed. Since the launch of the Skills Builder Universal Framework in 2020, we’ve been able to build a much more robust picture of the impact of individuals’ essential skills on their lives and prospects. This excellent research from NFER further strengthens that case, and goes further by sharing a clear picture of the growing importance of essential skills over the next ten years.” 

Read the complete report.