Statistics show that a strong vocational education system will be required to help fill over 12 million vacancies by 2022. Of these, those caused by the retirement of the baby-boom generation will vastly outweigh those resulting from business growth.
Statistics show that a strong vocational education system will be required to help fill over 12 million vacancies by 2022. Of these, those caused by the retirement of the baby-boom generation will vastly outweigh those resulting from business growth
In his autumn statement, George Osborne said that “access to higher education is a basic tenant of economic success in the global race”.
While this is true, it is only a partial account of the future demand for jobs and skills.
A new report published this week by IPPR shows that the growth in professional occupations is set to be dwarfed by the number of vacancies created by the retirement of baby-boomers. Stories about winning the ‘global race’ in skills cannot neglect the training of people to fill medium and low-skilled occupations.
Figure 1 shows how the number of people required simply to replace those workers who will retire over the coming years (replacement demand) will vastly outweigh those created by business growth (expansion demand).
Figure 1: Where will jobs be created between 2012 and 2022? (millions of jobs, by skill level)
Source: Data from Wilson et al 2014
Business growth in high-skilled occupations such as health professionals and corporate managers will lead to a 20 per cent increase in this section of the workforce. However, vacancies caused by retirement, as well as being significantly higher, will be spread across all skill-categories – as shown by the grey bars on figure 1.
Over 12.5 million vacancies will be created as a result of retirement by 2022 – nearly half of these (5.9 million) will be in low skilled occupations and a further 3.4 million will be in medium-skilled technical occupations. This provides a challenge to the ‘hourglass’ economy narrative, which claims that jobs have become polarised at either end of the skills spectrum.
When demand from business growth and retirement are combined, there will be 1.6 million vacancies in ‘caring and personal service occupations’ (such as care assistants and home carers), 1.2 million vacancies in ‘business and public service associate professionals’ (such as train drivers and air traffic controllers) and 0.4 million vacancies in ‘skilled construction and building trades’ (such as heating engineers and plumbers).
Many of these occupations tend to rely on vocational courses and qualifications to ensure that the workforce has the necessary skills, with a lower percentage of the workforce possessing degrees.
Demand for jobs and skills in these areas will therefore require both policymakers and employers to engage in and help strengthen the UK’s vocational education system. Simply increasing the number of people with degrees will not fill the resulting skills shortages.
If the UK is to truly win the ‘global race’ in jobs and skills, a combination of strong vocational education and employer commitment to high-value business models will be necessary, alongside the continued strengthening of professional occupations.
Craig Thorley is a researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)
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