The Great British Skills Gap: A fifth of UK employees have no awareness of the skills gap or how to address it

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Written by Jon Kennard on 24 January 2019 in Press Zone
Press Zone

More than three in five senior business leaders (62%) admit there is a skills shortage in their workplace.

  • New consumer poll suggests there is a misunderstanding among UK employees about the skills gap across certain industries
  • 20% unaware of any skills shortages, almost a quarter (23%) unsure which industries are impacted and a similar number (23%) how it applies to them
  • Three quarters (75%) unsure what skills their employer requires and over a fifth (22%) what skills jobs of the future will require

With many people using January as the time to plan ahead for their career, a new consumer poll commissioned by The Open University has unveiled there is a notable gap in the general public’s knowledge surrounding skills gaps in the UK, with a fifth (20%) claiming to be unaware of any skills gaps at all.*

More than three in five senior business leaders (62%) admit there is a skills shortage in their workplace.** Yet, new polling suggests that many UK employees are unaware of what they can do to ‘upskill’ themselves at work (25%), and over a fifth (22%) say they don’t know what skills future jobs will require of them.

Employment levels in the UK have been increasing over the past few years***, however, the poll suggests workers in many industries may be lacking vital skills necessary to perform well even in their current roles, with three quarters (75%) of those admitting they are unsure what skills their employers require of them.

Employers currently spend in excess of £6 billion a year on filling skills gaps in their organisations** but this is not sustainable, and the polling results suggest they are not equipping their employees with the skills needed to succeed in their roles.  

A third (33%) of people surveyed said it was either very, or fairly likely they would change career or sector in the next five years. Despite this, many people have little knowledge of which sectors are struggling with recruitment. For example, over half of those surveyed (57%) are unaware of the struggles the healthcare industry is experiencing when it comes to filling job roles.

Almost a third (31.2%) of respondents are unaware of the demand for new talent within the education sector and almost 1 in 5 (19.2%) are unaware of the need for engineers. The polling suggests many people could be missing out on rewarding job opportunities due to a lack of knowledge surrounding the current job market.

David Willett, Corporate Director at The Open University said:

“There is much talk about the skills gap, particularly in the media and between business leaders, yet, as the polling suggests there is a huge lack of awareness among UK employees. It appears that more needs to be done to explain what this means in practice, to educate and advise employees about how they can gain new skills.”

Mike Thompson, Chief Executive at SustainHR, member of the Institute of Apprenticeships and former Head of Apprenticeships at Barclays, adds: “The nature of jobs is shifting and as the poll suggests, many UK employees are unaware of the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. The significant gap in skills across certain industries is having a huge impact on the economy. 

“Upskilling programmes, such as work place apprenticeships, not only boost staff morale and allow workers to develop their careers and grow as individuals – they also provide a strong return on investment for employers by addressing skills shortages and gaps within the workplace.”


Find out more about the many courses and degrees available to pursue at the OU here:

*Polling of 2,000 UK adults was conducted by Opinion Matters between 07.01.19 and 09.01.19
** The Open University’s Business Barometer Report 2018 
*** ONS figures 


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