Press releases

Deloitte: Technological change makes social and cognitive skills key to future workforce

14 July 2016

  • STEM important to future workforce, but not as important as social skills and problem-solving
  • Of 25 most important human talents in today’s workforce, two are technical knowledge but 23 are skills and abilities
  • Increased demand for new skills will fuel millions of new jobs in UK economy
  • Strong social and cognitive abilities increase individuals’ earning potential

Equipping the workforce with strong cognitive and social skills will be a larger benefit to the UK than just technical skills and knowledge according to research by Deloitte, the business advisory firm.

Building on its work on the impact of automation on the UK economy, Deloitte has analysed 120 skills, abilities and knowledge sets and mapped them to UK occupational classifications to demonstrate which are the most important to the UK’s workforce and how this is likely to change in the coming decades.

Shifting skills creates new demand for jobs
Deloitte forecasts that, by 2030, the UK is likely to need millions of additional workers with high skills to perform jobs that will require stronger cognitive abilities, content and process skills, and more specialist knowledge.

For example, the importance of health services knowledge to the UK’s economy is set to increase by 17% by 2030, which, assuming the importance of other skills remains the same, would require the equivalent of an extra 6.5 million health professionals to meet the demand.

Deloitte has explored a number of other future scenarios. For example, Deloitte forecasts an 8% increase in the importance of mathematical and scientific knowledge, which would require the equivalent of 4.5 million extra workers; a 6% increase in the importance of systems skills, requiring the equivalent of 4.8 million workers; a 5% increase in demand for process skills, requiring the equivalent of 5.5 million workers; and a 5% increase in demand for social skills, requiring 8.9 million workers.

Although these scenarios are mutually exclusive, the effect overall of the increasing importance of these skills, abilities and knowledge is a huge surge in demand for appropriately skilled workers.

Better social and cognitive skills equals better pay
Deloitte’s research shows that increased cognitive abilities and social skills can be associated with an uplift in wages. A 10% increase in cognitive abilities equates to a 12% increase in median hourly earnings, while a 10% increase in social skills equates to a 10% increase in earnings.

Changing importance of skills to UK workforce
Deloitte has modelled the changing importance of key attributes to the UK workforce since 2001 and projects them out to 2030. Knowledge of therapy and counselling is expected to increase in importance by 19%, followed by a 17% increase in the importance of social and anthropology knowledge and a 15% increase for medicine and dentistry, philosophy and theology, psychology and biology.

Over the same time frame, Deloitte forecasts that the importance of repairing skills will decline by 18%, followed by rate control and equipment maintenance, both declining 17%.

Cognitive and social skills most important to UK workforce
Looking at the current composition of the UK workforce, and changes since 2001, the list of most important attributes is dominated by cognitive abilities and the skills, knowledge and abilities to interact with, understand and communicate with other people.

Oral comprehension ranks as the most important talent in the UK workforce, up from second most important in 2001, followed by problem sensitivity, oral expression, near vision and deductive reasoning.

By contrast, those attributes of least importance to the UK workforce includes a number of physical and sensory skills, such as repairing skills, dynamic flexibility, explosive strength and sound localisation. These are more typically used in repetitive manual tasks better suited to machines than humans.

Of the 25 attributes found to be most critical to today’s workforce, just two are technical knowledge with the other 23 being skills and abilities.

Skills impacting on job growth
Deloitte’s analysis demonstrates a strong relationship between the importance of process skills, social skills, problem-solving skills and systems skills with changes in employment. Looking back over the last 15 years, those jobs where these skills are more important to the role have seen stronger growth and those where they are least important seeing larger declines.

By contrast, jobs where physical abilities, psychomotor abilities, sensory abilities and technical abilities are most important have seen the largest decreases in employment since 2001, with stronger growth in roles where they are least important.

Angus Knowles-Cutler, Deloitte Vice Chairman and London Senior Partner, said:
“We all know that automation is rapidly changing the world of work. This research points to a fundamental shift in the balance of skills, knowledge and abilities in the UK workforce to enable humans to thrive alongside the increasing use of technology. This shift is ongoing and set to continue in the coming decades.

“Although STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge are important in an increasingly digital economy, the UK will benefit most from a workforce with a blend of skills, including problem-solving, creativity, social and emotional intelligence. Our work suggests that skills such as these are more valuable, to the wider economy and workers individually, than broad knowledge of a particular topic, and that these skills are likely to become more important.

“There are considerable challenges for businesses, educators and policymakers in helping the workforce and young people adapt when our current education system is geared more towards enabling students to acquire knowledge, rather than developing skills. Government has an important role to play ensuring a joined-up approach to the future needs of the UK workforce and ensuring the UK remains competitive.”


Notes to editors

About Deloitte
In this press release references to Deloitte are references to Deloitte LLP, which is among the country's leading professional services firms.

Deloitte LLP is the United Kingdom member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), a UK private company limited by guarantee, whose member firms are legally separate and independent entities. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.

Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.

Mark Smith
Deloitte LLP
+44 (0) 20 7007 7082
+44 (0) 75 9004 1301

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