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Does it matter what you want to be when you're older?

The ability to acquire knowledge and apply to different situations is enormously important for job success. However the ‘static’ knowledge that has enabled humans to complete cognitive or physical rules-based tasks in the past, such as spotting anomalies in x-rays or a factory assembly line is increasingly obsolete as automation becomes more sophisticated.

If predictions of technology disrupting entire industries come to pass, workers will need the ability to move into different types of jobs and at different points in their career, and apply their underlying transferable ‘human’ skills to different contexts – making it less important to have your career aspirations set in stone as you grow up.

Transferable skills

We carried out research into employment data from 2001 to 2016, a period including the instability and collapse in confidence following the financial crisis. Our analysis found that workers with the strongest transferable skills, such as analytical, communication and strategic skills, which are all inherently ‘human’, proved the most resilient to this economic shock and to automation.

These occupations have driven the majority of job growth since the turn of the century, with the top 20 per cent in our research accounting for over half of the total net job creation (1.9m jobs). In contrast, occupations with the least transferable skills (bottom 20 per cent) were vulnerable to displacement, and saw a significant net fall of 530,000 jobs.

To realise the untapped potential of transferable skills across all parts of the workforce, positive action is required from businesses, workers, government and educators, and if successful will improve worker mobility between jobs and regions, thereby unlocking significant economic and social benefits.

What needs to change?

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 therefore overlook individuals who might be well-suited for the role but who have built up their skills in a different context.

Workers will need to prioritise personal development around transferable skills; commit to lifelong learning; be flexible and open to using their skills in different ways throughout their working lives; and be willing to relocate to secure a new job.

Challenging preconceptions about who has strong transferable skills could stimulate regional growth and promote awareness of disparities in salary between genders and workers with similar underlying skills but working in different occupations or sectors.

The average level of skills in the workforce is relatively consistent between all regions, giving a reason to be optimistic about improving regional equality. However despite the relatively small differences in transferable skills, they are nevertheless an important determinant of prosperity.

London and the South East have benefitted disproportionately from job growth and higher wages compared to other regions. This is shown by the strong correlation between salary and depth of skills and salary and percentage share of job growth.

Explore our interactive map to see regional differences in skill level versus determinants of prosperity, such as salary, probability of future automation and share of job growth.

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