Two fifths of Britain’s workforce say they are ‘Not In Skilled Employment’

According to a new study

The vast majority of low and semi-skilled workers are in the same roles now as they were five years ago, according to new market research commissioned by The Open University.

  • Two fifths of UK workforce identify themselves as Not In Skilled Employment (NISKE) – with majority struggling to move up career ladder since 2012
  • Lack of opportunity at this level is hindering skills development and social mobility
  • The Open University urges employers to invest in work-based training and apprenticeships to boost skills

The study identifies two fifths (42 per cent) of the UK workforce today identify themselves as ‘Not In Skilled Employment’ (NISKE) – the equivalent of over 13 million people across the country. More than four in five (84 per cent) of this group were also in the same low and semi-skilled positions in 2012, underlining the issues this group faces in developing better skills and moving up the career ladder. 

The study warns that a strong core of NISKEs are effectively stuck in their positions in the workforce with limited prospects for social mobility, with women significantly more likely to fall into the NISKE cohort than men (52 per cent versus 34 per cent). This may be because women are more likely to work part time. 

It seems that to date the NISKE group has fewer opportunities to develop in work – a finding echoed by the recent Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which found that those at the bottom of the labour market are disproportionally affected. 

Currently a third of (32 per cent) NISKE workers don’t have access to workplace training, compared to around one in five (22 per cent) of those in skilled roles. Similarly, half (50 per cent) of those Not In Skilled Employment have no career progression opportunities at their place of employment. Among skilled workers this figure drops to one in four (27 per cent). 

With 9.2 million low-skilled workers expected to chase 3.1 million low-skilled jobs by 2024, the UK could see a huge surplus of low-skilled workers, while at the same time striving for a higher skills economy to compete on the global stage.

At a time of increasing uncertainty, where concerns about a growing skills gap and lack of productivity affect most industries, the study underlines the need for investment in skills development to unlock greater potential and enable more individuals to adapt to the changing economic, political and technological climate.

Some organisations, such as the IPPR, have recommended introducing personal learning and retraining allowances to help low skilled workers boost their skills.

However, when it comes to gaining new skills, there are many societal issues why some individuals embrace opportunities more than others. The study found apathy to be a significant factor, with NISKEs notably less likely than their better-skilled peers to want to build up their skill sets (43 per cent versus 56 per cent). While a lack of awareness of the training options available is affecting one in 10 (10 per cent). 

David Willett, director at The Open University said: “The UK is in the grips of a skills crisis lagging behind its international competitors and this is blighting individual and business potential.

“To compete on a global level the UK needs to shift to a higher skills economy, but that means the livelihoods of many NISKE workers are under threat - unless we invest in training staff and unlock greater potential.  

“Employers urgently need to invest in developing an agile workforce that can embrace change and meet new challenges. 

“Adult education and training at all ages and levels has a role to play in raising productivity, narrowing the skills gap as well as enabling greater social mobility and enhancing progression into well-paid jobs.

The Open University is working with a number of employers across the private, public and third sectors to increase workplace skills and develop a culture of lifelong learning through initiatives such as degree apprenticeships.” 

The study follows recent market research commissioned by The Open University which found the skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2bn a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing, and the challenge of finding talent with the right skills means that businesses need to change their approach to recruitment, development and retention.

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