Current and future UK science workforce

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A research report for the Science Council by Trends Business Research (TBR)

This 2011 report reveals a greater number of people working in science jobs than previously calculated

It also suggests that existing predictions for the future science workforce have been underestimated

Key findings: 

• 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). 

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.

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. 

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.

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

Science and the practice of science are becoming increasingly important across all sectors of the UK economy and society so it is crucial that we understand more about where and how science skills are currently used in the economy as well as how this is likely to change in the future.  

The Science Council works to support the professional practice of science at all levels and across the whole economy. We know from graduate destinations data that an increasing proportion of those with science qualifications were reportedly taking up employment in what are traditionally considered to be non-science occupations so through our register of 15,000 Chartered Scientists we explored the wide range of roles that scientists currently undertake. This found that use of the term ‘scientist’ was commonly restricted to academics or researchers or those wearing white coats. The reality was very different and our work has led to a description of 10 types of scientist. We also identified a mismatch with the labour market analysis of the science workforce which tended to focus narrowly on the traditional science sectors such as research and development.  

This UK workforce research is a starting point in providing 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. And it takes into account the complexities of today’s science workforce, both in science and from science. There were, inevitably, limitations in the data sources available, but the new methodology takes account of the workforce across the entire economy, rather than looking at total employees within science based industries. This enables an understanding of the true size and scope of the science workforce across the economy, rather than limiting the research to considering scientists working in a narrow band of science sectors: it has been able to identify the science workforce in employment sectors as diverse as health and social care, education, food and farming, communications, finance, retail and public sector services.