R&D Workforce and Skills

Led by Kostas Kollydas, this project describes the structure and characteristics of the R&D workforce across regions and identifies the types of R&D skills sought by employers in various industries. 

A country’s economic growth and prosperity depend heavily on innovation. Similarly, research & development (R&D) is considered the cornerstone of actions intended to address current economic disruptions and significant challenges, such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, an ageing population, and the increased technological requirements associated with automation, artificial intelligence and digitalisation. In this context, a principal ambition of the UK Government, as set out in relevant strategies, is to grow and develop the R&D workforce, aiming to level up UK regions and improve the country’s competitiveness on the global stage.

This project quantitatively describes regional and temporal trends in workers’ likelihood of conducting R&D activities and explores the demand for R&D skills across sectors. It also seeks to deepen our understanding of the difficulties employers encounter in attracting and retaining people with R&D skills and offers policy recommendations to address these issues. Moreover, it has been well-established from the academic literature that the gender, cultural, ethnic, and birthplace diversity of a workforce positively affects a country’s economic development, productivity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. As a result, another objective of this project is to qualitatively identify the challenges and impediments to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the R&D workforce.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

Research Theme 1

Skills and Local Labour Markets


Key objectives of this project are to:

  • Provide a selective review of the extant literature on aspects of skills demand and supply and their interactions.
  • Define the UK R&D workforce based on the Standard Occupational Classification and describe the characteristics of R&D workers.
  • Analyse past trends in the R&D workforce by region, industry, age, gender, nationality, protected characteristics, and level of education.
  • Identify the types of skills that employers seek in R&D-related occupations and sectors (e.g., technical knowledge, digital skills, leadership/management skills, communication skills, a combination of these).
  • Qualitatively pinpoint the limiting factors in expanding the skills needed for R&D, research commercialisation, and technology adoption. What challenges do employers face in recruiting and retaining R&D workers? How can these issues be addressed to help employers find the people with R&D skills that they need?
  • Understand the barriers to participation/progression in the R&D workforce for under-represented groups (e.g., women, specific ethnic minorities, and disabled people in STEM occupations) and obtain the perspectives of employers/employees on how these impediments can be overcome.
  • Develop outlooks/scenarios regarding how the demand for R&D skills is predicted to evolve over the next 5-10 years based on economic, technological, legislative, and other factors.


Project lead contact details: 

Dr Kostas Kollydas, Research Fellow, City-REDI / WMREDI

Project support contact details: 

Matthew Patterson, Administrative Assistant, City-REDI / WMREDI