Urgent action needs to be taken now by government and UK employers if the UK is to enjoy the same prosperity after the recession as it did before, a major new study has revealed.


 “Ambition 2020:  Word Class Skills and Jobs for the UK”, published today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, challenges government and businesses to redouble their efforts to raise their ambitions and the nation’s skills to prevent the UK slipping behind international competitors over the next decade in jobs, productivity and competitiveness. 


This first progress report to the governments of the UK by the Commission finds that there have been significant improvements in the UK’s skills levels over the last decade. The numbers of high-skilled people have increased by more than a third -  more than three million people - in the last ten years, while the numbers without qualifications have fallen by a quarter, or more than 1.5 million people. Skills provision has become more employment-responsive, apprenticeship numbers across the UK have risen dramatically, and new schemes link skills to job opportunities for the unemployed more strongly. The UK is now the third most successful country in Europe for adult participation in lifelong learning.

This represents solid progress over that period, significantly better than in the previous decade. However, the real challenge derives from the progress other nations have been making since the 1990s, and requires the UK to now set and measure its progress on productivity, employment and skills against its principal global competitors. Calling on the UK governments to adopt a UK-wide goal of being in the top quartile of the 30 OECD countries – the top 8 countries in the world – for productivity, employment and skills by 2020, the report finds that:·        


The issue of workforce skills is now recognised by government and industry alike as one of the foremost challenges facing the UK in the coming decade; ·         Internationally, the UK in 2006 (the latest international data available) ranked 17th in the world on low-level skills, 18th on intermediate skills and 12th on high level skills.  ·         Innovations and improvements since 2006 are yet to flow through to international benchmarks, but based on progress to that date, the evidence suggests that without further action we could rank 23rd for low-level skills, 21st for intermediate skills and 10th for high level skills in 2020.·         To get into the top eight OECD nations for skills will require individuals to achieve more than 20 million additional qualifications – more than one for every second adult of working age – by 2020.·         There is a fundamental mis-match between supply and demand in the labour market, resulting in approximately 1.8 million people not having all the necessary skills for their job.  Yet as the supply of higher-level skills outpaces the demand for them, increasing numbers of people are over-qualified or under-employed, working in jobs that do not make the most of their talents.  Both conditions point to employers ‘making do’ with their employees, rather than demanding more from them, and investing more in them. 

Sir Mike Rake, Chairman of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said:
”Making headway on the skills and jobs agenda during the recession will be very difficult.  Some of the jobs that are being lost will never return; some skills will become obsolete.  But growth will come, and with it, new jobs – we predict about two million brand new jobs will be created between now and 2020.  The key to our economic renewal is to invest in human capital now – to deploy energy and resources in building the UK’s skills base. “Are our employment and skills services up to it?  They are complex – difficult to understand and hard to navigate.  Initiatives have been designed to make them work better, but the overall effect has been to complicate, not simplify. “But skills are only one half of the equation.  If the UK is to continue to wield economic clout way above its physical size, then we must exploit our human capital resources to the full.  At the moment, we have too few employers producing high quality goods and services and too few businesses in high value-added sectors.  We need to make sure that the vast untapped resource of talent latent within the UK workforce is developed and turned into skills, jobs and productivity.” The report recommends the government adopt an ambition of being in the top eight countries in the world by 2020, and sets out five key priorities for achieving that aim. They are: 

Create a clear and integrated cross-government strategy for economic transformation and renewal;

Develop a simpler, more agile and demand-led skills and employment system, capable of anticipating and addressing both existing skills needs and emerging industrial opportunities and challenges;

Transform individuals’ aspirations, maximising motivation and opportunity for everyone to develop their talents;

Build employer ambition and capacity to be world-class, capable of competing globally as high skill, high value added organisations

Support better integration of skills into economic development activity in cities and local economic communities;

 The UK Commission also publishes today its own Five Year Strategic Plan for the period 2009-2014, setting out the priorities it is setting, and the outline work programme that its expects to undertake, during that period in support of the goal of making the UK a world class nation in productivity, employment and skills by 2020. Copies of the reports are available to download at http://www.ukces.org.uk/