University of Leicester eBulletin

Britain Demands More Skilled Workers - According to New Report

March 2002

No 50  

Skill demands in Britain's workplaces are continuing to rise, according to a new survey commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills and produced by a team of researchers including Dr Alan Felstead of the University of Leicester.

The study showed that the proportion of degree-level jobs increased from 10 per cent in 1986 to 17 per cent in 2001. Only 27 per cent of jobs today required no qualifications, compared to 38 per cent in 1986. Fewer jobs require a cumulative training time of under three months, falling from 66 per cent in 1986 to 61 per cent in 2001. This also indicates a rise in the complexity of jobs, with fewer jobs requiring only a very short time to pick up and to learn to do well (27 per cent in 1986 compared with 20 per cent in 2001).

Among the other findings of the report, Works Skills in Britain 1986-2001, published Friday 1 March, are:

Women are catching up on men in the skills used in jobs:

           The proportions of jobs held by men requiring no qualifications fell from 31 per cent to 24 per cent over 1986-2001, while the equivalent decline for jobs held by women was from 48 per cent to 29 per cent.

The call for computing skills is continuing to rise rapidly:

           Jobs involving computers comprised 72 per cent of jobs in 2001, compared with just 53 per cent in 1992. In the four years from 1997 to 2001, the proportion of jobs in which use of computers was essential rose from 31 per cent to 40 per cent. Other generic skills, such as problem solving, communication, planning, technical know-how, literacy and numeracy, are also becoming steadily more important in British jobs.

It is also becoming more important for workers to learn on the job:

           In 2001 81 per cent of people reported that their job required them to learn new things (compared with 76 per cent in 1992).

Jobs that require computing skills continue to pay well:

           A job which requires the use of computers at a 'moderate' level, for example to analyse spreadsheets, enjoys an average wage premium of around 21 per cent for women and 13 per cent for men. High-level communication skills, such as making presentations or writing long reports, also come at a premium in the labour market.

The supply of qualifications in the workforce has expanded to meet the rising demand:

           The supply of highly-qualified workers roughly matches the demand. The supply of workers with intermediate and lower qualifications considerably exceeds the number of jobs that explicitly require these qualifications for recruitment. However, employers continue to pay their qualified workers more, and still prefer to hire qualified rather than unqualified workers.

Despite increasing skills, there has been a marked decline in the discretion people can exercise in their jobs, especially among professional people:

           For example, the proportion of all employees reporting a great deal of choice over the way they do their job fell from 52 per cent in 1986 to 39 per cent in 2001. Professor Francis Green  of Kent University, who led the team conducting the survey, said: "These findings give us a better insight into evolving working practices in Britain over the past 15 years. The good news is that increasing job skills provide the basis for improved economic prosperity, and that computer skills are growing in all sectors of the economy. But the downside is that many people are finding they are being given less discretion and choice in their daily tasks, and this makes them less satisfied with their jobs."

This survey is based on interviews with 4,500 working individuals in Britain aged 20-60. It collected information about the skills utilised at work, using an innovative methodology that had previously been developed for the 1997 Skills Survey. The report explains how several different aspects of work skill can be measured, and examines the distribution of skills among workers. The report also describes changes that have taken place since 1986, by making comparisons with previous surveys. Finally, the values of different types of skills in the labour market are estimated.

The research was carried out by a team directed by Professor Francis Green of the University of Kent, and the Oxford and Warwick-based ESRC Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE). Other members of the team included Professor Duncan Gallie of Nuffield College, Oxford.

Notes to Editors:  Copy of the executive summary or of the full report of Work Skills in Britain 1986-2001 can be downloaded from:

The full report can also be downloaded from: or otherwise obtained from DfES Publications; telephone 0845 60 222 60, email  
SKOPE, an ESRC Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational
Performance is based at the Department of Economics, University of Oxford, and at Warwick Business School. For more information about SKOPE see

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