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Jonathan  Wright

Private-public gap in skills must be bridged if regional divide is to be closed

Authors: Jonathan Wright Nasreen Memon

03 November 2010

For immediate release: 3 November 2010

A report, Employability and skills in the UK: Redefining the debate, published by The Work Foundation in conjunction with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Commercial Education Trust, warns that if the private sector is to take up the slack, both the demand for and the supply of skills at all levels must be improved at the local level.

The private-public gap in skill levels must be narrowed by driving up the demand for skills in the private sector. Without this, large scale redundancies within the public sector in some places are likely to result in underemployment or the ‘flight’ of high skilled labour to areas of higher demand.

The report shows that the public sector employs a much higher proportion of high skilled labour than the private sector in most regions. For example, the employment of high level skilled people in the private sector in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, and Northern Ireland is 28 percentage points lower than in the public sector. In London, the gap is only 14 percentage points. Moreover, most of the UK’s regions over the past decade have seen the demand for high skilled labour increase at a faster pace in the public sector.

The report calls for the new Local Enterprise Partnerships to bring private sector employers together with local education and training providers to produce individuals with the skills being sought and to increase the demand for higher level skills. The availability of skills in the local workforce and the ability of local employers to use them efficiently will be a key determinant of which places prosper and which places fall behind over the next decade. There is still a significant level of low skilled employment in the labour market. In some regions of the UK, more than 15% of jobs require either low or no qualifications.

Naomi Clayton, co-author of the report said, 'In an era of post-recession austerity, it is imperative that local employers and education providers come together at the local level to develop a system that responds to the needs of local employers but also supports businesses to move up the value chain. Local Enterprise Partnerships must play a key coordinating role.'

Jonathan Wright, co-author added, 'Given the level of public sector cuts anticipated, the private sector needs to fill the void not only by being a key employer of high skill workers but also as an investor in training.'

John Hillier, Chair of the Commercial Education Trust Grants Committee said, 'This excellent report underlines the folly of governments relying on ‘one-size fits all’ policies, whether regional, educational, or economic. It also underlines how little real attention is paid to employability at all levels of education, and how low standards of competence have become the norm in too many sectors. We want to see action on all these issues, and we are interested in working with anyone who wants to secure real change.'


Notes to editors

  1. Employability and skills in the UK: Redefining the debate by Jonathan Wright, Ian Brinkley and Naomi Clayton is available at
  2. Knowledge intensive services are leading the recovery, as in previous recessions. In the year to June 2010, nearly 200,000 new jobs were created in knowledge based services in the UK, while traditional services and production lost almost three quarters of a million jobs. This trend represents an ongoing restructuring of the UK economy away from traditional manufacturing and towards knowledge intensive services and manufacturing.
  3. Related reports from the Knowledge Economy programme include Shaping Up For Innovation: Are we delivering the right skills for the 2020 knowledge economy? and Knowledge Economy Strategy 2020.
  4. Ian Brinkley, Director of the Knowledge Economy programme and co-author Naomi Clayton are both available for interviews and briefings.
  5. The Work Foundation is the leading independent authority on work and its future. It aims to improve the quality of working life and the effectiveness of organisations by equipping leaders, policymakers and opinion-formers with evidence, advice, new thinking and networks.
  6. London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Commercial Education Trust is an independent grant-making charity originally founded by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It seeks to promote and foster business-related training and education and acts as an advocate for commercial education.


Media enquiries:


Tom Phillips 0207 976 3554


Nasreen Memon 020 7976 3507 or 07825 527 036