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CEP Discussion Paper
Water Under the Bridge: Changes in Employment in Britain and the OECD
Peter Robinson
February 1997
Paper No' CEPDP0325:
Full Paper (pdf)

Evidence is presented for the UK, the US and France that the pace of change in the structure of employment by occupation has not been accelerating. Changes in the occupational structure of employment are taken to proxy changes in the net demand for labour by skill level. Efforts are made to make the data for these three countries comparable, reflecting the problem that data published by the ILO on the distribution of employment by occupation are not readily comparable. The direction of employment change across countries seems very similar, with manual jobs being replaced primarily by managerial, professional and technical jobs which tend to require higher qualifications. However, in themselves the changes in employment which have occurred require only modest improvements each decade in the qualifications of the workforce. In the UK, skilled manual employment has declined at the same rate as unskilled manual employment. Changes in the qualifications structure of the workforce occur gradually across generations, as the children of people with few formal qualifications attain higher qualifications and their parents leave the labour force. Sharp changes in the structure of employment over a relatively short space of time can throw the labour market into a position of structural imbalance. But over time as the changes in the structure of employment moderate and the new generation attains higher qualifications, these imbalances can work their way out. In this sense the shock of the early 1980s recession in the UK represents 'water under the bridge'.