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Ian Brinkley
Economic Advisor
Ian Brinkley

Too many managers, not enough innovators?

Authors: Ian Brinkley Ian Brinkley

23 July 2010

Over the next ten years job growth in both the US and UK economies will be driven by an expansion in knowledge intensive services and care related jobs. But there is a striking rise in the predicted number of managerial jobs that will be created in the UK. Given that productivity in the US is 22% higher than the UK , this begs the question - what are all these managers doing?

The official US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has recently published their annual update of projections on jobs over the next decade 2008-2018 . In the UK the nearest equivalent is the Working Futures report published by UKCES in early 2008 and covering the period 2007-2017. Both projections show strong growth in knowledge intensive jobs such as professional and technical services and also in care related jobs to support the ageing population, provide child care, and meet the growing demand for health, fitness and beauty across the population as a whole.

So far so good. But a closer look at the two surveys suggests some intriguing differences.

Firstly, the US jobs forecast show that the number of managers is expected to grow more slowly than the workforce as a whole. Indeed, the number classified as ’top executives’ in the US is projected to fall slightly. So overall the share of managers in total employment is expected to fall.

In contrast, the UK forecasts see the next decade as a boom time for corporate managers. As a result, the share of managers in the UK workforce is set to rise significantly to an all time high. By 2020 the share of managers in the UK workforce will be at least 17% compared with no more than 11% in the US on current trends and using national definitions .

Secondly, the US forecast show continued resilience in many office based jobs, including growth in managerial support jobs such as secretaries and administrative assistants. The UK forecasts in contrast suggest such jobs are on their way out with significant falls for secretarial jobs. If we took these figures at face value, US senior managers look to be better supported than their UK counterparts.

Some of these differences could be explained by the different jobs classifications and methodology used in the two countries. UK respondents to the statistical surveys may also be more prone to say their job is ‘managerial’ than US respondents.

While the US statistics distinguish between managerial jobs and what are termed ‘business and finance specialists’, many of the same roles would be classified as managerial by the UK statistics. The US also separates out ‘first line’ supervisors, and some of these posts may also be classified as managerial in the UK figures.

But that all said, even if we include all the business and financial specialists, the share of ‘managers’ in the US labour force is projected to barely change.

For every new management job created in the US over the next ten years, there will be just over three new jobs in professional, technical, and scientific occupations. In the UK, the ratio is half that – for every new management job, 1.5 new such jobs will be created.

Why do we seem to need so many more managers when the US does not? And does this have future implications for the innovation potential of the two economies? In the US, productivity was 22% higher than in the UK measured by GDP per worker in 2008 - much the same as it was in 1998. It is hard to imagine that this gap will be any smaller by 2018 given the trends in the two workforces.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 3 Comments)


07 Aug 2010 2:57PM

Good question. Why do we seem to need so many more managers?

So they can have coffee in starbucks, apparently, boss people around, improve their careers, organise their lives and others, have 'meetings' where different managers jostle for position, showing off their skill for solving problems of structure, whilst simultaneously scoring points over other staff eager to unseat them.

Forgive my jaded view but where is the productivity in all this? Everyone seems to think they can be a manager, and I rather wonder if this is like everyone in the pub thinking they could run the country (or Manchester United) better than those appointed to do so.

There's an unorthodox view for you :| Mind you having been on the wrong end of managers who can't specify what thy want done then come up with things on the last day of a project saying "I'm sure I mentioned that before", maybe some trained managers wouldn't be a bad thing...

Fred Habuckle

07 Sep 2010 11:45AM

There are too many managers and not enough people actually implementing. Innovators, creative talent, surgeons and engineers are needed most. People learn to manage and organise themselves as part of their daily lives, they are already managing themselves and their activities. You have to ask the question: Are managers actually need at all ?

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