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Skills Used In British Workplaces Still Rising

Skills being used in British workplaces have been rising for the last two decades, but the pace of change has slowed in the last five years, according to a new study published today by the ESRC Research Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE).

The report, "Skills At Work, 1986 to 2006", written by Professor Alan Felstead (Cardiff University), Professor Duncan Gallie and Dr. Ying Zhou (Oxford University) and Professor Francis Green (Kent University), gives the first findings from the 2006 Skills Survey, a nationally representative survey of 4,800 working individuals in Britain aged 20-65, and similar surveys carried out over the last two decades. The surveys collected a wealth of information about the skills utilised at work, and about workers’ views on training and work, and about their pay and well-being.

Findings include:

- Since 1986, there has been a fall in the proportion of jobs requiring no qualifications for entry, from 38 per cent in 1986 to 28 per cent in 2006. There has also been a fall since 1986 in the proportion of jobs requiring less than one month to learn to do well, from 27 per cent in 1986 to 19 per cent in 2006. However, both these indicators of low-skill jobs have remained unchanged over the last five years.

- Computing skills continue to become increasingly important in workplaces. In 2006 computers were essential to nearly half of all jobs compared with less than a third of jobs in 1997.

- Though computers are essential for a greater proportion of women’s jobs than men’s jobs (50 per cent compared with 45 per cent), a smaller proportion of women’s jobs than men’s jobs require the use of computers at complex or advanced levels (21 per cent compared with 35 per cent). Among women’s part-time jobs, the proportion of jobs using computers in complex or advanced ways is very much less (15 per cent).

- “Influence skills” – the abilities to persuade people, write long reports, make speeches, and to teach people – are also becoming more important.

- There has been a convergence between the skills of men’s and women’s jobs. The proportion of jobs requiring degrees for entry rose between 1986 and 2006 from 14 per cent to 21 per cent among men, but from 6 per cent to 18 per cent among women. In most skill domains part-time jobs have been narrowing the skills gap with full-time jobs.

- Jobs which require the use of ‘influence skills’ pay a premium over and above the rewards to education and training. Comparing otherwise similar jobs for which influence skills are on average ‘essential’ with jobs where the skills are ‘very important’, the difference in hourly pay amounts to an estimated 7 per cent for females and 8 per cent for males.

- Compared with otherwise similar jobs that do not use computers at all, those which use them in a ‘complex’ manner – for example, using statistical software packages – pay an estimated 18 per cent premium for females, 12 per cent for males.

- The workplace itself is becoming an ever more important driver for learning. The proportions strongly agreeing to the statement ‘my job requires that I keep learning new things’ has consistently moved upwards during the 1992-2006 period – rising from 26 per cent in 1992 to 30 per cent in 2001 and then to 35 per cent in 2006. The proportions strongly agreeing to the statement ‘my job requires that I help my colleagues to learn new things’ rose from 27 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent in 2006.

- However, the rise in skills among employees over the last two decades has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in the control they can exercise over their jobs. Between 1992 and 2001 there was a marked decline in employee task discretion for both men and women, but since 2001 employee task discretion has remained stable. For example, the proportions reporting a great deal of influence over how to do tasks at work fell from 57 per cent in 1992 to 43 per cent in 2001, where it remained in 2006.

Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks, said:
"This report underscores the increasing need for people to develop and hone skills at all levels, regardless of their profession. We recognise that in today's competitive global environment, Britain has to have a skilled, innovative workforce in order to compete. It's pleasing to see the strong growth in the number of people holding qualifications at all levels and that people are increasingly using their skills at work."
Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell, said:

“The Leitch Review of Skills has set out the ambition to have world class skills by 2020. The Government will shortly announce its plans for implementing Lord Leitch’s recommendations. All the evidence points to a growing need for skills for our competitiveness. Ever fewer jobs will require no qualifications in future. Employers are now in the driving seat ensuring qualifications meet their needs. Qualifications must closely reflect the skills they want. We want their involvement in the qualifications reforms under way.”

Professor Green said: “Our report shows that skills demands are continuing to rise in British workplaces, especially computing skills and influence skills. It is encouraging that there has been a narrowing of the skills gap between women and men. But there is no sign yet that British employers are affording greater discretion for workers to exercise their skills more independently."

Annika Howard | alfa
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