Press release

Mind the gap – men fall behind as women’s skills increase

New research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) shows the skills gap between genders is continuing to widen, as women leave male counterparts behind.

Skills of women set to outstrip men by 2020

Men urgently need to increase their skills and qualifications or risk being out-competed in the jobs market, according to new research published today.

The report from the government-backed UK Commission for Employment and Skills reveals the gender gap is set to widen over the next few years, with women’s skills and qualifications improving faster than men’s.

It finds that by 2020, almost half (49%) of women will have degree-level qualifications, compared with just 38% now and predicts that women will take two-thirds of the new high-skill jobs created over the next six years.

Men’s qualifications levels are also set to rise, but more slowly than women’s, with the percentage of men with degree level skills reaching just over 44% by 2020.

The findings echo this summer’s GCSE results, in which 73% of girls’ exams were graded at least a C, compared with 64.3% of tests sat by boys.

The report also finds that the proportion of women qualified to below GCSE level is expected to drop at a significantly faster rate than men – falling from a quarter (24%) to one sixth (15%) by 2020. Equivalent figures for men show a drop of just three percentage points, from 23% to 20%.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC and a Commissioner at UKCES said

The fact that skills levels are predicted to increase is welcome news. Skills matter – they increase a worker’s pay, their job satisfaction and boost the economy.

The increased disparity between men’s and women’s skill levels is concerning for both sexes. Men are finding to harder to get skilled jobs, while for many women their higher qualifications are not leading to better pay and jobs.

Tackling inequality – in skills, qualifications and pay, and for both sexes – is essential if we are to have a prosperous and stable future.

The new publication also compares the UK’s skill levels with other nations. The proportion of people in the UK holding a degree or equivalent is set to rise to almost half (48%) by 2020, moving the UK above America and most European nations.

However, despite a reduction in the number of people with low or no qualifications, the proportion of UK population with low skill levels is also likely to remain relatively high.

Michael Davis, chief executive of UKCES, said:

A projected increase in the number of highly skilled UK workers is very welcome news. It will ensure employers have a rich talent pool and better access to the skills they need when recruiting.

However, the fact that we are failing to keep pace with other nations when it comes to developing the skills of those at the lower end of the spectrum is concerning. The productivity gap between the UK and other nations growing, and addressing this ‘long tail’ of low skills is vital to sustaining growth over the long term.

These projections are a warning shot for our future selves. They highlight the importance of employers continuing to develop the skills of all of their employees to ensure that businesses compete successfully and the economy continues to grow.

View the report: UK skills levels: international comparisons and competitiveness.

Published 5 September 2014