20% of UK workforce depends on science skills to do their jobs

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New Science Council report reveals the shape of the UK science workforce

New research undertaken for the Science Council shows that science has become increasingly important across all sectors of the UK economy and society with 5.8 million people now employed in science-based roles. This is projected to increase to 7.1 million people by 2030.

The research, undertaken for the Science Council by TBR, provides much more information than available previously, including greater depth of data on the size, shape, distribution and qualifications of the UK science workforce today as well as giving some projections of future changes.  

For the first time the complexities of today’s economy are taken into account in the research by looking at the workforce in its entirety, thus enabling an understanding of the true size and scope of the science workforce across the whole economy, rather than limiting the research to considering only those working in a narrow band of so-called science sectors.  

The results serve to emphasise the interconnectedness and cross-disciplinarity of science in today's economy and highlight the proliferation of secondary science workers, people who are dependent on science knowledge and skills as part of their role and who will not previously have been identified as part of the science workforce. Significant numbers of scientists were found in employment sectors as diverse as health and social care, education, food and farming, communications, finance, retail and public sector services. 

Diana Garnham, CEO of the Science Council, commented:  

"Secondary scientists can be found, literally, everywhere in the economy using science in their jobs in lots of different ways.  The research begins to explain where science graduates go and why there is such huge demand for people with science qualifications.  But it also demonstrates the value of studying science – a message that underpins our careers awareness work and the website Future Morph – and indicates how many more people we need with these skills by 2030."  

Jon Poole, Chief Executive of the Institute of Food Science and Technology adds:

"The research has been very useful in identifying the scale of the workforce utilising science knowledge and skills within technician level roles - from pharmaceuticals to food and from biotechnology to retailing.  It shows what key roles technicians have now in the delivery of science and innovation in today’s economy and the importance of investing in technician skills for the future."

Key findings:

Shape of the UK Science Workforce
20% of the workforce is employed in science roles, a total of 5.8 million people (1.2m primary science workers and 4.6m secondary science workers). 

Primary science occupations make up the largest share of the workforce in Research & Development.

Secondary science occupations make up the largest share of the workforce in the Education (46%), ICT (45%), Health (30%) and Consultancy (25%) sectors.  

The Health and Education sectors employ 60% of the science workforce and the remaining 40% of the science workforce is distributed across a range of sectors. 

The science workforce consists of those with postgraduate qualifications and graduates as well as people with non-graduate qualifications.  

Within the science sectors (core and related) 34% of the science workforce is non-graduate (with 17% QCF level 3&4); 32% are graduate and 26% are postgraduate.  In comparison with the non science sectors and the economy as a whole there are significantly more graduates and postgraduates in the core and related science workforce. 

Regional Differences

Permeation of science workers across the economy means that the regional employment distribution is very similar to total economy averages.

Of the science workforce: 37.4% (2.1m) is located in the East, the South East and London. In comparison, 36.7% of the entire UK economy workforce is located in these regions. 

The North West (11.9%), Scotland (9.5%) and the South West (9%) are notable employment locations outside of the South Eastern ‘hub’ for the science workforce. 

Gender Balance

Overall the primary science workforce has a gender balance of 60/40 (male/female) similar to the UK working population (54/46 (male/female).  Only the health sectors has more female than male science workers, and in ICT 91% of the employees are male.  

For primary science workers a number of employment sectors are close to a 50/50 distribution between female and male science workers (pharmaceuticals, education, agriculture and aquaculture).  

It is interesting to note the extreme difference in the gender balance for science based workers in non-science sectors where 73% are male and 27% are female.  That this is so different to the gender balance within science based sectors suggests that there is a strong bias towards employing men in science roles where the main activity of the organisation is not science based. 

A higher proportion of women work in many secondary science roles, notably in health, pharmaceuticals, education and textiles.


The highest paid primary science workers are employed in the public sector.

Average pay overall for scientists is generally higher than the average wage in the whole economy.

In related science sectors, workers employed in secondary science roles earn more per hour than primary science workers. 

The definitions of the science workforce used for this report are: 

Primary science workers: workers in occupations that are purely science based and require the consistent application of scientific knowledge and skills in order to execute the role effectively, for example, Biochemists, Chemical Engineers, Science and Engineering Technicians and Medical Radiographers;

Secondary science workers: workers in occupations that are science related and require a mixed application of scientific knowledge and skills alongside other skill sets, which are often of greater importance to executing the role effectively: for example, actuaries, Animal Husbandry Managers, Chiropodists, Civil Engineers, Environmental Protection Officers, Pharmaceutical Dispensers, Teaching Professionals and Software Professionals.

Non-science workers: workers in occupations that are not science based and have no requirement for science based knowledge or skills, for example, Travel Agents, Musicians, Legal Professionals and Housing and Welfare Officers.

Sectors are classified as:
Core science sectors: sectors that are primarily science based in their core activity. 

Related science sectors: sectors in which the primary activity is not necessarily science based, but has a strong relationship to science. 

Non-science sectors: sectors which have no science based or related activity. 

For the workforce research the science workforce was then segmented to reveal interesting data on the different sectors on a whole range of demographics such as salary, gender balance and qualification profile.   This published report is supplemented by a series of data workbooks which are available to interested parties to allow them to drill down into data on their own sector and draw comparisons with other sectors.   The Science Council hopes that as well as helping to understanding the landscape for investment in education and skills, this data will enable it to develop benchmarks for the first time enabling it to monitor demographic and other changes in the science workforce that may have policy implications.

A copy of the illustrative chart is attached and the Full Report and an Executive Summary can be downloaded from the Science Council web site. 



Science Council 

It is an umbrella organisation for learned societies and professional bodies across science and its applications and works to advance science for public benefit. The Science Council works to support the professional practice of science at all levels and already holds a register of Chartered Scientists. A primary purpose of the research was to understand the numbers of individuals operating at technician and intermediate levels and whether there was a need to expand the current system of registration to raise the professional standing of all those working in science.

It was also known from graduate destinations data that an increasing proportion of those with science qualifications were reportedly taking up employment in what were traditionally considered to be non-science occupations.  The Science Council has previously described 10 different types of scientist in order to capture the roles of those working beyond academia and research in the application of science.  


TBR is a leading UK consultancy providing research, information and advisory services to public and private sector clients. We provide our clients with the evidence they need to make confident, informed decisions.  The research was produced by the Skills and Labour Market Team.

Future Morph 

The careers from science web site with more detailed information about subject choices, qualifications and careers arising from the study of science and maths. 

Further information contact

Diana Garnham       

Chief Executive, Science Council

Tel: 020 3434 2024 or 07768 055853


Ali Orr 

Registrar, Science Council

Tel: 020 3434 2022