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The UK has an invisible skills gap because people don’t recognise the importance of digital jobs

Tech, science, and arts in particular

By Jennifer Harrison March 7, 2016

Some jobs more in-demand than others. This is the kind of thing people consider when choosing their subjects at school or university. The ideal situation is to find a subject that you enjoy, which leads to a profession with a shortage of workers in the UK. A recent study suggests that most people don’t really have a clue about what occupations are in-demand. There’s a belief for many in the UK that the most in-demand jobs are the ones nobody would want anyway because they’re too difficult or dangerous, but it’s not true.

The Home Office provides data on the shortage of workers in various professions in the UK. With this data it should be easy to get more people working in the areas where we really need them, but it seems the public awareness of these shortages is lacking. Stormline, a company that provides wet weather gear to engineers and scientists, conducted a study to investigate the myths and reality of these shortages and the myths held by the public. Using the Home Office data and necessary skills from university entry requirements, they surveyed UK adults to identify in-demand jobs and skills from the list.

The main finding of the study is that the UK public has poor awareness of the professionals that are desperate for workers and the skills that are worth learning in order to fill these positions. The skills gap is apparently invisible and this might be because many of the skills are digital. Some of the most in-demand professions involve tech, software, sciences, and visual design yet less than 1% of the participants recognised digital jobs as part of the skill gap. The following image shows the occupations believed by the public to be in demand at the top. The bottom shows the actual Home Office data as well as the skills associated with the professions.

Image @ Stormline

Surprisingly, 1 in 3 participants couldn’t correctly identify a single occupation that the government listed as in-demand. 1 in 5 thought we needed more police, lawyers, government officials, and I.T. staff despite none of these being among the most in-demand professions. The participants’ favourite answer was teaching. In reality, the most in-demand occupations were in engineering, medicine, visual effects, and other professions that require science maths and science skills. Despite the necessity of science education for these roles, only 1 in 5 participants thought science skills were in demand.

The highest number of occupations crying out for more workers are in STEM, health care, medicine, waste management, and art design professions. People don’t seem to recognise the need for more engineers, health care professionals, and visual artists. Graphic designers are in high demand as more markets go digital and everyone is making apps and interactive experiences. The tech world is merging with traditional markets so computer science skills are helping artists fill new roles. Dancing is the type of profession many people avoid because it is thought to be too competitive but the UK has to outsource dancers from other countries.

The study suggests that, generally speaking, much of the public doesn’t know which industries are desperate for people with skills. Engineering is the industry where we need the most skilled people, with 2 million more required by 2022, yet people don’t think of it as needing more workers. The UK needs more people with tech and science skills but the public thinks we need more teachers and police. According to the government we even need more visual designers and dancers; jobs that are stereotyped as too competitive.

We need people to fill these positions for the good of our economy and that’s part of the reason why the Home Office collects and presents this data. The government needs to do more and work hard with schools to educate the public about the skills that can lead to in-demand professions. If people had a better idea of the occupations that need workers, it would likely affect their education choices. How many people unnecessarily turned from tech or dancing because they thought there just wouldn’t be enough work?


Main image © Steve Debenport