Before the onset of COVID-19, employment in the UK was at a record high. New analysis, which was used in our submission to the Work and Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into DWPs preparations for changes in the world of work, showed that the UK economy generated an additional 3.4 million jobs between 2011 and 2019. And contrary to the narrative that the future of work consists of more insecure, poor quality and low wage work, the data shows that growth in employment was primarily high-skilled and permanent. Indeed, employment increased fastest in managerial and professional occupations, whose numbers grew by 27% and 23% respectively. In contrast, employment growth was slower (or non-existent) in low-skill occupations – apart from care work.

The growth also shows, as history has previously illustrated, that technological change can generate a high number of jobs as well as destroy them. This is because technological innovation tends to reduce costs, expand existing markets and open up new ones. It is also due to the expansion of high-skilled occupations such as programmers and software development professionals, whose numbers have grown by 74%. On the downside, technology is also part of the explanation behind the decline in a number of other occupations, such as clerks and retail staff (see table below). 

Employment change by selected occupation, UK, 2011-2019

Occupation Jan 2011-Dec 2011 Jan 2019-Dec 2019 % change
2136 Programmers and software development professionals 222,400 386,900 74%
1135 Human resource managers and directors 131,100 217,300 66%
3538 Financial accounts managers 106,700 176,300 65%
8212 Van drivers 181,200 283,100 56%
1131 Financial managers and directors 232,300 352,400 52%
7112 Retail cashiers and check-out operators 232,000 178,500 -23%
9251 Shelf fillers 109,000 80,300 -26%
4215 Personal assistants and other secretaries 248,000 173,000 -30%
4123 Bank and post office clerks 143,900 96,600 -33%
4112 National government administrative occupations 239,600 141,400 -41%

HR managers and directors in the occupation league table

Perhaps one of the surprises of the analysis is to see HR managers and directors lying in second place in this occupation league table. The number of HR managers and directors increased by 66% during the same period; their growth even outstripping that of their finance colleagues.

There are four occupations related to HR and development listed in the 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC)
  • 1135 Human resource managers and directors (see above) 
  • 3562 Human resources and industrial relations officers 
  • 3563 Vocational and industrial trainers and instructors
  • 4138 Human resources administrative occupations 

Together, employment in these accounted for 438,000 people in 2011, increasing to 562,000 in 2019- an increase of 28% (see chart below).

Employment in HR-related occupations (UK)

Analysis of the above table: Employment in HR- related occupations, UK, 2011–2019

The number of people employed as trainers hardly increased at all, possibly reflecting changes in both the organisation of training and its delivery (such as more on-the-job learning, online delivery). The number of people employed in the most routine HR jobs fell slightly, which is perhaps a consequence of automation removing the need for people to carry out functions such as payroll or record-keeping. 

In 2011, there were 107 HR managers/directors for every 100 HR officers; by 2019, this ratio had increased to 136. It is difficult to identify precisely why this occurred. Has HR work become more complex, requiring more skilled and/or experienced staff? Or has there been an element of job title inflation?

Looking ahead, 2020 will see this period of employment growth come to an end. It is impossible yet to say what this will mean for employment in HR, however the demands on HR departments appear to have changed but not diminished, even if staffing isn’t immune from wider changes in organisation context and priorities.

About the author

Mark Beatson

Mark Beatson, Senior Labour Market Analyst

Mark's respected labour market analysis and commentary strengthens the CIPD’s ability to lead thinking and influence policy making across the whole spectrum of people management and workplace issues.

Prior to joining the CIPD, Mark was an economic consultant and for over 20 years worked as an economist in the Civil Service, latterly at Chief Economist/Director level, in a range of Government departments including the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and HM Treasury.

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