Making a market for the missing middle: Higher technical education


This research, commissioned by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, explores how a higher technical education offer with a focus on industry-specific skills, could help to address the needs of local people, local businesses and the local economy.

Compared with its international competitors, the UK has a relatively low proportion of the workforce with higher technical skills and qualifications. This ‘missing middle’ creates challenges for employers looking to fill their skills gaps, boost productivity and grow their business. Similarly, the lack of higher level technical and vocational provision, limits opportunities for progression, hampering social mobility for those people who do not opt for a university degree.

The ‘Skills for jobs’ White Paper, published in January 2021, committed to stimulate higher technical education and put employers at the heart of the system. This new report shows how the ambitions for a stronger higher technical education offer can be delivered at a local level, through building a market for higher technical education.

The researchers worked with providers, employers and local stakeholders in two local areas, to explore the barriers to boosting demand for and provision of higher technical education. This focused on the digital sector in the West Midlands Combined Authority area, and the advanced manufacturing in the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership area.

The report highlights the need:

  1. for effective engagement of employers
  2. for development of provision shaped by employers’ needs,
  3. to develop the provider workforce

In addition to setting out how to develop the market for higher technical education at a local level, the report provides recommendations for government in the wake of the white paper to boost demand for higher technical education and fill the ‘missing middle’.