From education to employment

UK needs more workers with the skills to fill technical and professional roles

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Despite efforts by successive governments over recent years to tackle the shortage of intermediate level skills, typically associated with the employment of technicians and similar types of jobs – from the 2020 Plan for Jobs; the 2021 Skills for Jobs white paper, and the 2022 Levelling Up paper – shortages persist.

ReWAGE’s new evidence paper: How to address skills shortages at the intermediate skills level, which has been commissioned and funded by the Gatsby Foundation, examines the evidence and sets out recommendations to address it.

Professor Irena Grugulis, co-chair of ReWAGE, says:

“Intermediate level skills have long been regarded as a driver of productivity and national competitive advantage, providing the skills that are seen to be key constituent part of a high skill, high value economy.

In countries with good productivity records, the percentage of employees working in intermediate level skilled jobs is higher than in the UK. If the UK wants to compete by increasing the numbers of those employed in intermediate level skilled jobs, then the supply of intermediate level skills will need to keep pace.”

Summary of findings:

The demand for intermediate level skills, such as those required in technician and associate professional roles, has been increasing over time in the UK, yet skills supply has struggled to keep pace with demand. This is reflected in a raft of hard-to-fill vacancies due to applicants lacking the skills, experience, or qualifications that employers require. These are often in the type of jobs that drive productivity growth.

Countries which have displayed relatively high levels of productivity, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have tended to rely more heavily on the productive contribution of people working in technician roles compared with the UK. People filling these roles typically possess the knowledge and skills to problem solve and drive change in the workplace.

If the answer to the UK’s productivity problems lies in creating an increasingly large body of technicians and associate professionals, then a means needs to be found of increasing the supply of people with the skills required to fill these roles.

To achieve this goal, employers need to be incentivised to invest in intermediate level skills, and employees need to be empowered to invest in their own skills development. Leaving the market to determine intermediate skills demand will result in supply meeting short-term goals and doing little to ensure that supply is better matched to demand over the longer-term.

How can the supply of training be boosted?


  1. Empower individual workers to undertake training to update and reskill as necessary. Initiatives such as Individual Learning Accounts provide a means of achieving this goal.
  2. Empowering individuals to undertake training will need to be supported by adult careers guidance available to people in work as well as those out of work.
  3. Provide guidance to employers about the skills their workforces need to acquire to meet future changes in the demand for skills.
  4. Encourage employers to engage in training of a type which confers benefits on businesses and individual workers through incentives such as tax credits.
  5. Reduce the net cost of apprenticeship training to employers to make them less risk averse when it comes to investing in this form of training.

The paper was commissioned and funded by the Gatsby Foundation.

Daniel Sandford Smith, Director of Policy at Gatsby Education, said:

“Gatsby has a long history in championing the importance of technicians to our economy, most recently demonstrated through the opening of the Technician Gallery at the Science Museum. This paper makes a really constructive contribution as to how we can overcome technician shortages, noting that much of the infrastructure – T-levels, HTQs and high-quality apprenticeships – is now in place, but we must do more to enable individuals and employers to make better access of these qualifications.”

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