03 August 2017

United Kingdom, London

Report also outlines current demographic profile of UK’s workforce:

  • Growth in over 50’s (+230,000) and under 35’s (+50,000) 
  • Decline in number of employees aged 35-49 (-48,000)

Mercer produces Workforce At Risk Index to identify affected industries

An analysis of the UK’s workforce showed that it grew in 2016-2017 only because of an increase in EU and non-EU workers. Mercer’s Workforce Monitor™ showed that retirement, opting out (i.e due to caring responsibilities) or emigration saw 143,000 UK-born employees leave the UK workforce with the loss of workers only being offset by the entry of 147,000 EU-born workers and 232,000 Non-EU workers. In sum, the UK’s workforce grew by 234,000 over 2016-2017.

As well as highlighting the role of migration in the UK’s economy, the report analyses the related risks of demographic change taking place in the UK’s workforce. From Q1 2016 to Q1 2017, the number of workers over 50 in the UK economy grew by 230,000, the under 35’s grew by 50,000 while the number of workers aged 35-49 shrunk by 48,000. According to the analysis, if net migration into the UK levels off at 100,000 per year from 2020, the number of under 50s in the workforce will fall by 200,000 by 2025; the over 50s would increase by over 1 million while the number of under-25s in the population would fall by 100,000. Apprentices and graduates numbers will be less.

Mercer’s Workforce Monitor™ is a regular publication that tracks the changes in the UK’s workforce caused by migration and demographic change using data from numerous official sources.  Mercer’s first edition highlighted how the UK’s aging society combined with post-Brexit limits on migration is likely to cause a workforce crisis unless companies follow the five lines of defence: Retaining staff, diversifying their employee base, automating, relocating or, more drastically, ceasing business operations in the UK.

According to Gary Simmons, Partner at Mercer, “Our latest report shows that there’s clearly an exodus of people from the UK’s workforce, either through retirement or emigration. It also shows that immigration is no longer filling the gap and the nation’s pool of younger workers is shrinking. This will impact companies in different ways. Organisations which have a younger workforce will have to think hard how to retain this group but also need to develop a fundamentally different approach in how they attract others types of workers – or get ready to pay huge salary premiums. Companies employing older workers who possess experience and deep organisational knowledge need to create working environments that capitalizes on that but also equip them with new skills to ensure profitability.”

Mercer’s August update also provided a deeper dive into the impact of migration and aging and specifically, at major employment and economic sectors: Health and Social Care, Construction and the Financial and Insurance Services Industry.

Health & Social Care

It’s well known that the sector faces vast challenges. The report highlights that 35% of employees in this sector are over the age of 50 and 18% are foreign born.  The number of EU nationals registering as Nurses in England dropped by 92% in the last 6 months of 2016 and 2,700 EU-born nurses left the NHS in 2016 compared to 1,600 in 2014. One in 3 nurses are due to retire within the next decade and 1 in 3 GPs plan to retire in the next 5 years. Meanwhile, applications to university nursing and midwifery courses fell by 19% (11,530 applications) in the 12 months to March 2017. The private healthcare sector faces equal challenges.

“It’s difficult to see how the industry will weather this storm,” said Julia Howes, Workforce Planning specialist at Mercer, “unless they combined all 5 lines of defence particularly retaining their UK workforce and maintaining access to non-UK labour forces, automating and ceasing provision of some services.”


The report cites the Federation of Master Builders stating that of 15 key trades and occupations, 40% show skill shortages at their highest point since 2014. One third of the workforce is over 50 and the industry will need to recruit 1,507,821 workers to fill that gap. In London, more than half the workers are from outside the UK. The shortage will have significant impact on infrastructure projects like HS2, London’s SuperSewer and the Government’s Home Building plans.

“Much of the work is manual so this industry must address new ways of working – drones, automation, 3D printed homes, virtual planning – as well as diversifying the workforce, accessing professional in other sectors to build their employee base and capture the value that older workers can bring,” said Julia Howes. “Retaining talent is also essential as is new training programmes.”

Financial and Insurance

The report shows that the sector employs over 1.3 million people in the UK and traditionally uses buying power to attract younger staff. However, morale is low: One third of banking employees are intending to leave their position within the next 12-24 months and the technology sector has replaced it as career of choice. The attractiveness of the Financial Services sector has waned and it can no longer buy what isn’t there. Digitisation is also disrupting the sector and companies are reconsidering their employee value proposition given industry scandals and declining compensation. While employee levels are not as high as other sectors, the sector is at risk of overseas competition.

“Rebuilding morale to attract and retain existing staff and diversifying the workforce are top priorities,” said Julia Howes. “Automation is already being adopted but the digital transformation needs to be more profound as this sector still lags behind. Relocation of some services and the adoption of more flexible working for employees are also inevitable but will require a huge cultural shift in many firms.”

With migration levels expected to continue to fall, Mercer has developed a Workforce Response Plan  which helps organisations analyse the profile of a company’s workforce to assist it in responding to demographic and migration-related challenges.

Notes to Editors

Full report and methodology is available from the UK Press Office. The first edition of the Mercer Workforce Monitor™ modeled four scenarios mapping the size of the UK’s workforce from 2015 to 2030 based on possible changes to current migration levels. In all scenarios, even as the population size increases, the UK faces at best, very slow growth, or even shrinkage, of the working population.

All research uses official workforce and demographic data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the OBR, the Bank of England, the Migration Observatory and Nomis. Sector definitions are the Standard Industry Classification (SA IC) 2007 used by the ONS (here). Sector growth figures are also from the ONS.


About Mercer

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and careers of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global professional services firm offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With annual revenue of $13 billion and 60,000 colleagues worldwide, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a leader in management consulting. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer. In the UK, Mercer Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.