Workers with strongest transferable skills will unlock brightest future

  • Advances in technology will require more focus on skills through education and training than ever before
  • Reform of company training & hiring processes will be needed, with individuals being open-minded to multiple careers

Employment within 44% of occupations in the UK is declining, according to analysis by Deloitte. The report, the third in its Power Up series that looks at the key forces shaping the UK economy, found that occupations where employment is increasing are typically those in which softer, transferable skills are more prominent. Occupations requiring a high level of skills such as active listening, complex problem solving and the ability to exercise judgement have seen a net increase of 1.9m jobs between 2001 and 2016. Occupations typically requiring a lower level of such skills seeing a net decrease of 530,000 jobs. 

Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice chairman and senior partner of Deloitte UK, said:

“Major shifts are occurring in the UK workforce.  Businesses are facing pressure to invest in technology and revise their operating models and occupations characterised by manual, clerical, administrative and repetitive tasks are being disrupted.  This is causing many workers to fear that their jobs will be displaced and that they may not have the skills required to find alternative employment.  

“With rapid progress in technology, today’s students may face very different working practices. It is crucial that before students leave education they understand employers’ changing expectations and are equipped to meet them. In an online discussion of over 350 educators, recruiters and experienced workers, the ability to work alone, be self-sufficient and build relationships digitally were identified as the most important skills for workers in the future.  In contrast, the ability to work in a team was recognised as being far less important in the future workplace.

Alternative career paths

Our analysis offers a different scenario to the doom and gloom of technology-fueled mass unemployment.  Throughout history, advances in technology have led to more and better-paid jobs and so far in the 21st century, things have been no different. We know that the type of jobs we do and the way we work will change but our latest research shows that as transferable skills are more highly valued in growth occupations, opportunities will exist for workers to transition between industries and occupations.  As a result, businesses and workers will need to be more flexible when considering candidates and job opportunities respectively, while policymakers should focus more on developing skills rather than knowledge through education and training.

The length of time for which knowledge remains relevant is declining rapidly and the concept of a single career with a fixed knowledge-base will become less common.  Workers will no longer be able to rely on predefined career paths.  Our analysis of the five occupations that have lost the most jobs since 2001 found that they all possessed transferable skills desirable in growth occupations.  For example, while the number of typists and post office clerks has declined since 2001, the number of medical secretaries and teaching assistants has increased and these roles require a similar level of transferable skills.  

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte North West Europe, added:

“For the benefits of transferable skills to be realised, employers will need to change their approach to recruitment.  Traditional recruitment processes, particularly for experienced workers, tend to focus on academic achievement and sector expertise, and could overlook individuals who might be well-suited for the role but who have built up their skills in a different context.  

“Similarly, employees don’t always realise how valuable and relevant their skills are for other jobs, allowing them to reinvent themselves. As disruption gathers pace, workers will need to draw on their transferable skills, and plan for multiple careers. 

“Challenging preconceptions about career paths and which workers hold valuable skills could also have a positive impact on productivity and help the UK workforce build resilience in the face of significant change. Employers need to create pathways for workers to transition between industries and roles. It will also offer an opportunity to widen the pool of talent available to businesses.

“Government and educators will need to work with businesses to meet the aims set out in the recently published Careers Strategy to familiarise young people with different places of work. Exposure to different challenges and different working environments from an early age will help young people build a strong foundation of transferable skills, as well as the confidence to apply them in many settings.”

Regional differences – West Midlands

Across all regions, there are only marginal differences in the proficiency of core transferable skills which offers reason to be optimistic about improving regional equality. In the West Midlands, key findings show that: 

• Skills level (level of transferable skills) is scored at 42.38 in the West Midlands, higher than the national average of 41.96-3 

• Average probability of automation is 37%, slightly higher than UK average (35%)

• Percentage share of job growth vs percentage share of population is -5 compared to UK average of 7  

Hilary Smyth-Allen, Executive Director of BPS Birmingham added:

“Whilst the region shows a good level of transferable skills, what the figures don’t show are the levels of opportunity, which is undoubtedly greatest in the regional economies. Especially so for Greater Birmingham given the depth of its young and super-diverse talent pool. 

“It is essential therefore that local policymakers, educators and businesses continue to be focused on the potential; enabling collective action such that there is accelerated aggregated intervention in order to drive inclusive growth.”

Dominic Wong, partner and responsible business lead at Deloitte in the Midlands said:

“There is a reason why the development of these types of transferable skills with schools and colleges in the Midlands has been the focus of our community programmes for nearly a decade. 

“We have seen time and time again the huge impact that can be made by giving young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the opportunity to better understand, test and develop these skills. 

“There is absolutely no question in my mind that it will be these skills that enable great opportunity and prosperity both for the individual and also our region.”
Sir Howard Bernstein, strategic adviser to Deloitte UK concluded: 

“In order to unlock potential in the regions, there is also a need for investment in infrastructure and to promote and support new growth industries right across the U.K. 

“How the UK economy responds to the challenges of a changing labour market and the requirement to strengthen our competitiveness has never been more important. How we focus more on place will in my view become increasingly important in the future.” 

View the report here.

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