The implications of simultaneous growth in top and bottom end employment

There is a growing concern about potential polarisation in the structure of the labour market, though its extent and nature is contested. For all the talk about ‘knowledge economies’ it is important not to lose sight of actual trends in demand for skill. Despite job growth at the top end of the occupational spectrum there remains a significant number of low paid jobs (about 22% of the UK workforce), and in some instances the numbers are growing, particularly in parts of the service sector. Skill requirements, at least as measured through formal qualifications, are often very limited. Consequently, this theme addresses developments at both ends of the occupational spectrum and the inter-relationships between them. This theme builds on the second phase of the Nuffield Foundation’s 14-19 Review, particularly its investigation of what constitutes an ‘educated’ 19-year old today.

Current Projects

Building ethnographic research capacity on workplace learning - Delbridge

Graduates on the property ladder: skills, work and employment in a ‘graduatising’ industry - James & Warhurst

Labour market segmentation - Mayhew & Holmes

Service sector occupations and performance in comparative perspective - Lloyd & Payne

Skill and distributional issues - Rice


The spatial dimensions of the distribution of skill and knowledge

Spatial patterns of skill demand, supply and usage are seen as critical, as at the top end of the labour market highly mobile global elites emerge; while at the bottom end, non-tradeable, interactive service work is growing. The role of transnational business in responding to the sharp growth in the supply of skilled labour and in redistributing demand for skill across the globe is becoming more apparent. Off-shoring and outsourcing are also major issues for higher skilled work and service sector occupations. Recent mass migration, coupled with concerns about brain drains (within and between countries), and evidence that the pattern of demand for skill in the UK is becoming more polarised between different locations, all point to the emerging importance of place and space in thinking about skill. Taken together, these developments raise major questions for policy and research:

Current Projects

A War for talent? Elite graduate recruitment in the UK and France - Brown and Power

Recruitment and selection - Keep and James

The brain drain? A study of graduate migration in Wales - Dr Gillian Bristow and Dr Madeleine Pill


Reform of education and training provision and the emergence of ‘smart’ education, training and economic development systems

Education and training systems worldwide are grappling with a range of tensions. One result of this is institutional and programmatic experimentation. These include the reform of vocational curricula and the pedagogy for their delivery, questioning established forms of skill measurement and certification, the growth of large development activities within policy formation and systems management. Partly as a result of SKOPE’s earlier research, attention is shifting to how best the demand for skill can be increased and the knowledge economy expanded, and how higher levels of skill can be deployed within the workplace to maximum effect. Policy is increasingly acknowledging that the key question is: the enhancement of which types and levels of skill, for which workers, in combination with what other changes or forms of investment, will deliver improved performance?

Current Projects

An evaluation of the Scottish Funding Council's Skill Utilisation Projects - Keep & Payne

An inquiry into the measurement and certification of vocational skill - Keep, Stasz, James & Mayhew

Educational reform in VET in Germany, Austria and England - Ertl, Hayward & Friedrich

Integrating skills within a business improvement/economic development agenda - Payne, Lloyd & Keep

The future of higher and further education - Mayhew, Holmes & Ertl