• Fraser Harper

Skills for Research, Development and Innovation 2

When seeking to understand the factors which drive innovation and productivity, several factors are usually cited.  These factors include lack of patents, poor capacity to innovate, too few knowledge intensive workers, and a lack of innovative entrepreneurs.1 But perhaps you might get a slightly different picture if you delve into the detail of tasks people undertake at work. If we view productivity as being based on a range of related tasks covering:

Productivity = Innovation tasks + research tasks + creative tasks + problem solving tasks + improving tasks + change tasks + analyses tasks + development tasks + patenting tasks

…then looking across the O*NET task-level database of 19,636 tasks you find around 15% (2923 tasks) are devoted to above activities which underpin productivity improvement.

Having established the tasks which improve productivity it is possible then to identify the occupations which are potentially responsible for the greatest contribution to productivity. We would expect from other work2 to find a range of occupations spread across those possessing high-level skills and upper intermediate (technician-level) skills. By combining the detailed worker requirements (skills, knowledge and abilities) with education, training and experience data for each occupation, we can identify key occupations (and jobs) which are responsible for productivity.

One set of O*NET worker requirements worth particular mention here are abilities. In O*NET, these are split across four categories: cognitive (21 abilities in all), psychomotor (10), physical (9), and sensory (12). Just taking one cognitive ability – originality, for example – the whole area of innovation and productivity can be probed further. There are 967 occupations which have some form of originality recorded as being relevant to the role, and of these, 438 have originality with an importance score of 50 or more. Then looking at the main occupation groupings (of which there are 8 main ones) which cover those with a high level of originality at their core, this gives:

  1. 17 Architecture and Engineering Occupations – 58 specific occupations

  2. 19 Life, Physical and Social Science Occupations – 55

  3. 25 Educational Instruction and Library Occupations – 53

  4. 29 Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations – 52

  5. 11 Management Occupations – 47

  6. 27 Arts, Design, Entertainment and Media Occupations – 36

  7. 15 Computer and Mathematical Occupations – 29

  8. 13 Business and Financial Operations Occupations – 25

Rather than go down the specific occupation or main occupation groupings, it also possible to derive composite measures of occupation types and allocate them to one of five categories: non-routine cognitive analytical, non-routine cognitive interpersonal, routine cognitive, routine manual, and non-routine manual physical3. Another route is to match the skills which are seen to underpin creativity and innovation4. Taking this later route requires matching O*NET skills, knowledge and abilities to: creative consciousness, levels of curiosity, pattern breaking skills, idea nurturing ability, willingness to experiment and take risks, courage and resilience levels, and, energetic persistence.

Then, taking one step further, it is possible to look at the skills individual organisation possess and deploys to improve and move forward, and how these compare with similar (competing) organisations. This is a significant advantage over using either job or occupation titles as it is more specific and allows very direct actions to be undertaken.


  1. World Economic Forum (2015) Bridging the Skills and Innovation Gap to Boost Productivity in Latin America. The Competitiveness Lab: A World Economic Forum Initiative in collaboration with Deloitte. 41 pages

  2. Mason, G., Rinco-Aznar, A. and Venturini, F. (2017) Which skills contribute most to absorptive capacity, innovation and productivity performance? Evidence from the US and Western Europe. Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies, IoE, UCL. 63 pages

  3. Gorka, S., Hardy, W., Keister, R. and Lewandowski, P. (2017) Tasks and Skills in European Labour Markets. Background paper for the World Bank Report, Growing United: Upgrading Europe’s Convergence Machine. Institute for Structural Research (IBS), Warsaw. 57 pages. Acemoglu, D. and Autor, D.H. (2011) “Skills, tasks and technologies: implications for employment and earning” in, Card, D. and Ashenfelter, O. (eds) Handbook of Labour Economics. Amsterdam, Elsevier. Pages 1043-1171

  4. Warner, J. (2004) Creativity and Innovation Effectiveness Profile. HRD Press, Amherst, Mass. 16 pages

#Innovation #productivity

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