The great skills divide: how learning inequalities risk holding the UK back


The first report in our Ambition Skills programme examines the UK’s qualification profile, projecting it forward to 2035 and comparing against trends with international comparators. It also considers trends in employer demand for skills and qualifications.

The report finds that:

  • By 2035, almost one in two 16–64-year-olds in the UK are set to have a higher education qualification, but one in three will still only have a GCSE or equivalent qualification at most.
  • The UK is on track to be 12th out of 39 OECD countries for low qualifications by 2035 (compared to 13th in 2022); 29th for medium skills (unchanged from now); and 10th for high skills (down from 6th in 2022).
  • Adults have gained seven million fewer qualifications in the last decade than if attainment had stayed at 2010/11 levels, with the largest number of missing learners in English and maths learners (2.1 million) and at level 2 (2.3 million). Employers are also investing less, 26% less per employee compared to 2005 – with graduates three times more likely to get training at work than non-graduates.
  • Skills needs are rising and changing. Growth is concentrated more in higher and professional occupations, which is likely to mean an increased demand for higher level skills. The types of skills demand are also changing, with increased need for transferable and essential employment skills like communication, collaboration, problem-solving, organising, planning and prioritising work, creative thinking, and information literacy.

Catch up on our webinar

Our joint webinar with City & Guilds and NOCN explored findings from our report 'The great skills divide' and project Ambition Skills.
Great Skills Divide Webinar 1 (1)

Explore our coverage in the Financial Times

'Funding cuts have halved number of adult learners in England since 2010.'

Find out more about Ambition Skills

With support from City and Guilds and NOCN, we're exploring the economic and social case for the UK to have a higher skills ambition, what this would look like, and the key policy and investment changes needed to achieve it.