UK faces employability skills gap as nearly 60% of adults lack the full set of core transferable skills

09 October 2018
  • Nearly 6 in 10 UK adults failed to demonstrate all the core employability skills needed for the future world of work: proactivity, adaptability, leadership, creativity, resilience, communication and problem solving
  • A third of employers aren’t planning to offer training in these skills in the near future, meaning people will need to take control of their own lifelong learning
  • To help address the problem, Barclays will be extending its LifeSkills programme to the whole of the UK workforce, aiming to help 10 million people by the end of 2022

The UK is facing a significant skills gap as the public fail to demonstrate core employability skills, such as leadership and creativity, a major new study from Barclays LifeSkills can reveal.

The report, “How employable is the UK?”, which surveyed and tested over 10,000 16-65 year olds, 600 employers and 500 educators from across the UK, found that more than half (57 per cent) of over 16s are failing to demonstrate all the employability skills needed to succeed in the future workplace.  

These skills are crucial in preparing the UK for a world of work where, due to the speed of change, we are unable to accurately predict what the jobs of the future will look like and what technical skills will be needed. The seven employability skills are what humans are best at – they cannot be replicated by robots and will become even more valuable in the future, as global patterns of work change and automation, freelance working patterns and the average working age all increase.

The study showed that traditional sources of these skills, like in-work training and formal education, are not currently set-up to tackle the employability skills gap. Despite the majority (79 per cent) of UK employers rating the skills as important to their industry in the next ten years, a third (34 per cent) do not plan to offer any training in the near future.

Research among teachers revealed that 22 per cent don’t think their institution is effective in developing employability skills for pupils, with just 6 per cent feeling that their students are fully prepared with these skills when leaving the school gates.

The report highlights that, if we are to be successful in addressing this employability skills gap, educators, businesses and the Government must work more closely together. There is a clear need to raise awareness of the importance of these skills and increase the support available to people of all ages – ultimately helping the UK to thrive in the working world of tomorrow.


The research findings showed Millennials as the lowest performing age group, with just 4 in 10 (39 per cent) of 25-34 year olds able to display all of the core skills. This generation risks being overtaken in the increasingly competitive employment landscape by the younger Gen Z (16-24 year olds), a slightly greater proportion of whom (41 per cent) can demonstrate all seven key skills, despite only just having entered the workforce.

Across younger respondents however, the study found high levels of over confidence when matching actual abilities to how they rated themselves, showing the need for ongoing support in building skills.

In comparison, almost half (47 per cent) of Baby Boomers (51-65 year olds) had the full range of employability skills but rated far lower in their self-confidence, meaning those who are working later into life may need support in using their strong skillsets to their full advantage.


For every skill, women outperformed men, with 46 per cent of women able to demonstrate they had all seven skills, compared to just 39 per cent of men. Despite this gap, men were much more likely than women to be highly confident in their own skills, particularly when it came to adaptability (19 per cent of men compared to 14 per cent of women).


Respondents from London showed some of the highest levels of confidence across the seven employability skills (33 per cent were ‘highly confident’, compared to a UK average of 28 per cent). However, this confidence wasn’t backed up when respondents were tested as just 40 per cent scored the maximum seven points, the lowest proportion of all UK regions. Indeed, London showed the highest skills confidence gap of any region, with 24 per cent showing a mismatch between their self-assessed skill levels and the reality of their test results.

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, said: “Today’s findings show the importance of lifelong learning, whatever your age or chosen career path. I firmly believe that education should not stop at the school gates – businesses, educators and the Government all have a role to play.

“We need to work together to agree a core set of transferable employability skills, giving people of all ages the tools needed to upskill and ultimately creating a competitive workforce that will support the UK economy.

“That is why Barclays is backing the UK by announcing the expansion of our LifeSkills programme to all ages – by the end of 2022 we’re committing to helping 10 million adults build the employability skills they need to succeed in the future workplace.”

Further information about the extension of the LifeSkills programme to over 25s will be announced in spring 2019.

About the research   

The seven skills are: proactivity, adaptability, leadership, creativity, resilience, communication and problem solving.

When choosing the list of skills for this research, Barclays LifeSkills considered a number of existing skills frameworks, including those created by the World Economic Forum and the Skills Builder Partnership.

Research was carried out by NatCen on behalf of Barclays LifeSkills in July 2018.

The working-age population survey was designed by the NatCen team, and conducted by the PopulusLive polling company in July 2018. A total of 10,394 people took part in the survey from across the UK.

The employer survey was designed by NatCen, and administered by Research Now using their business panel. A total of 680 employers, all with an influence on recruitment at their organisation, took part in the survey. Employers belonged to a range of different sectors and industries and were located across UK regions. 

The educator survey was designed by Chrysalis with a total of 492 respondents taking part from across the country.

The full report will be published on 9th October at https://www.home.barclays/about-barclays/backing-the-uk.html

About LifeSkills

The motivation behind the LifeSkills programme is to inspire millions of young people and equip them with the key skills to move forward into the 21st century work place. LifeSkills brings together educators, businesses, young people and parents to achieve this, as increasingly young people need to leave education not only with appropriate academic results but with the skills that we know businesses need now and in the future as technology reshapes our working world.

Educators, including schools, colleges, universities, charities and youth groups, are provided with more than 60 hours of free curriculum linked employability resources, through videos, quick fire activities, interactive tools and full lesson plans to teach young people, as well as dozens of interactive tools for young people to learn in their own time or in conjunction with their parents through our dedicated parents section. 

The programme focuses on teaching skills such as CV writing, interview skills, networking, problem solving, creativity, resilience, communication and managing online reputation.

LifeSkills also provides free support to UK businesses to help improve access to work experience opportunities – giving young people the key skills and experience they need.

Already LifeSkills is raising the aspirations of young people as they feel more confident about the future and we are seeing evidence that young people are using what they have learnt to secure employment and manage their finances more effectively. More than 6.7 million young people have already participated in the programme, with plans to support an additional 10 million people between 2018 and 2022, through the expansion of the programme to all ages.