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Business and innovation

Workforce Skills Project

Understanding the demand for physics-related skills across the economy, and how it will evolve, is a key part of ensuring the UK and Ireland benefit from the next industrial revolution.

One of the three challenges of our 2020-24 strategy, Unlocking the Future (PDF, 141KB), is the unlocking of capability in the UK and Ireland, in order to fully benefit from the new industrial age.

Skills have a vital role to play in meeting this challenge. When we talk about unlocking capability within the UK and Ireland, a big part of this means ensuring that enough people have the essential skills to drive innovation through research and development, to grow businesses and create opportunities in new industrial sectors. Ensuring the supply of these skills has the potential to boost productivity, prosperity and economic growth throughout the UK and Ireland.

Unlocking the potential of physics skills

In late 2021, the IOP commissioned Emsi Burning Glass to provide new insight on the use of physics skills in the UK and Irish economies, including how it varies across occupations, industries and regions, and whether employers’ needs for physics skills are being met.

Unlocking the potential of physics skills in the UK and Ireland

Download the IOP summary report (PDF, 104KB)

Physics in Demand: The labour market for physics skills in the UK and Ireland

Download the full research report from Emsi Burning Glass (PDF, 3.9KB)

Key findings

  • Physics skills support nearly two million jobs and underpin productive industries in every part of the UK and Ireland, with the highest concentration of jobs in Scotland (with 16% more in Scotland than the UK and Ireland-wide average would suggest) and the fastest growth in jobs in Ireland (45% growth between 2010 and 2020). Strengthening provision of physics skills is therefore central to ambitions to improve economic growth, prosperity and living standards at national and local levels.
  • Demand for physics spans all skills levels: while high-skill-level roles are seeing the fastest growth – with the number of jobs for physical scientists, for example, growing by 40% between 2010 and 2020 – more than half (53%) of physics-demanding jobs do not require a degree, with a sizeable minority (46%) typically requiring intermediate-level qualifications such as A-levels, Highers, Leaving Certificates and apprenticeships.
  • Significant unmet demand for physics skills exists, with a substantial number of physics-demanding roles at any one time – nearly 9,000 high-duration vacancies in mid-2021, having quickly recovered to pre-pandemic levels – seeming to persist in being hard to fill. This is impacting employers’ ability to grow and innovate: separate IOP-commissioned research found that two-thirds of physics-based businesses reported suspending or delaying R&D/innovation activities in the past five years due to skills shortages.
  • Strong, sustained growth in demand for physics skills – particularly outside of the scientific sector, with a significant proportion of hard-to-fill vacancies being for digital, and business and finance roles – reflects their importance, but is likely to exacerbate existing skills shortages in the coming years.
  • Consequently, action to bolster development of physics skills among the current and future workforce is needed now, to help governments fully seize the opportunities offered by increased investment in R&D and deliver on ambitions to build more innovative, productive and green economies. This includes:
    • Addressing shortages of specialist physics teachers so that everyone has access to high-quality teaching;
    • Challenging misconceptions about physics and the jobs it provides access to, which deter some young people, and supporting informed choices;
    • Ensuring availability of a variety of physics education and training pathways, as well as complementary transferable and digital skills development, all informed by close engagement between educators, employers, and researchers and innovators;
    • Incentivising employers to invest in employees’ upskilling and reskilling; and
    • Ensuring interventions aimed at strengthening provision of physics skills move beyond the level of ‘STEM skills’, given the distinct labour market demand for physics observed.

Understanding future skills needs

A second part of this project will explore future demand for skills in a number of focus areas that make significant use of physics-related technologies, identifying the anticipated changes in technology likely to drive new or greater demand for skills, the associated skills requirements, and existing and potential mechanisms for acquiring these skills.

To register your interest in this work and receive further updates, please contact [email protected].