Sara Mosavi is research manager at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)

The UK's productivity puzzle has politicians, economists and commentators scratching their heads. While the economic recovery has been marked by rising employment, productivity growth has not followed. In fact, had productivity continued to rise at the pre-recession rate, it would be 14% higher than it is now.

The government has identified the slump in productivity growth as a "great economic challenge", and is taking action. On July 8th, George Osborne explained that "productivity is key to delivering the financial security families see when living standards rise and will ensure Britain becomes what we want it to be, the most prosperous country in the world by the 2030s."

Later in the week, the Treasury along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published a productivity plan, which championed skills as a key component to boosting productivity in the UK.

What makes the situation puzzling is that, although we have continued to invest in improving our human capital and our tools, the rate of productivity growth is showing few signs of life. A closer look and we can see that total factor productivity (TFP)—the measure of how good we are at turning tools and workers into goods and services that consumers buy—has been taking a hit since the recession.

TFP covers factors such as the deployment of innovation and technology, how effective the market is at separating the wheat from the chaff, and how organisations are managed and led. The latter matters greatly to us at UKCES—how productive people are in work depends on their level of skills, but also on how those skills are used.

Research by the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation has found a clear link between management and leadership skills and productivity: developing best-practice management can improve the performance of an organisation by 23%; a one-point improvement (on a five-point scale) in management practices can have the same effect as increasing the labour force by 25%, or capital investment by 65%.

Defining what good management and leadership looks like is not always straightforward, however. Between December 2014 and April 2015, the UKCES commissioned Ipsos MORI to investigate some of these issues through a survey of over 100 'Captains of Industry', followed up by 20 additional in-depth interviews. Captains are executive board-level directors and chairs from the top 500 industrial companies by turnover and top 100 financial companies by capital employed.

Management and leadership skills are generally viewed as two sides of the same coin by the Captains, and they are seen to consist of two key elements:

  • A commercial skills set, including strategic management, financial acumen, and the ability to identify more broadly what a business must do to be competitive and grow; and,
  • Softer, people management and interpersonal skills, such as influencing, motivating, team leadership and communication.

Good managers are not necessarily good leaders. To be either you certainly need a combination of commercial and people skills. But, while management skills are described as being more tangible and easy to teach, leadership skills include an additional set of personal qualities, which some Captains describe as being difficult to impart.

In addition to seeing beyond the day-to-day operational challenges of a business, good leaders tend to display a range of more specialist softer skills, including the ability to influence others, a certain degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and good judgement. Leaders also have the respect of their peers and staff, and actively set the values of their organisation. "Good management is doing things right; good leadership is doing the right thing," notes one Captain.

In the UK we have some great businesses, but we know that there are also too many with weak management and leadership practices. Our economic recovery cannot rely on getting people into work alone, we also must make the most of the skills and talents of the workforce. All employers in the UK should shift into the extra gear on management and leadership. How they do that will depend on their size, sector and location.

As the economy continues to recover, averages often mask local variations that are deeply-entrenched and that require locally-growth solutions. In its recent productivity plan, the government championed the creation of strong local areas that work toward a skills system that is responsive to local economic priorities.

At UKCES we are very interested to find out just how that might work. One way in which we are doing that is by working with anchor institutions through our UK Futures Programme — a co-investment fund that invests in solutions to long-standing workforce issues.

Anchor institutions are those that, alongside their main function, play a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy; these can be anything from further education colleges to chambers of commerce, and from universities to local enterprise partnerships. Through the Futures Programme, we want to investigate whether and how anchor institutions in low-productivity parts of the UK can raise the quality of leadership skills in small firms in the local area, and eventually raise productivity too.

Watch this space for announcements on the successful projects, the solutions in which we'll be investing, and the lesson we'll learn along the way!

Sara Mosavi is research manager at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), a publicly-funded, industry-led organisation that offers guidance on skills and employment issues in the UK

You may also be interested in these articles:

Adaptations for 21-22 and beyond - #FutureOfAssessment Episode 3

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page