Project management: the ‘hidden profession’ contributing £156bn to the UK economy

Project Management

Project management team of engineer and architect were planning brainstorming for new project., Business construction concept.

by Association for Project Management 

Industry View from

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Project management: the ‘hidden profession’ contributing £156bn to the UK economy

Projects account for a significant share of organisational activity in the workplace, yet in the UK at least, there is relatively little data on the size of project activity, the number of people involved and the eco­nomic contribution of projects. This all changed recently, however, when the Association for Project Management (APM) and PwC published a new study, The Golden Thread, which, for the first time, has benchmarked the contribution of project management to the UK economy and society.

“Project management has for too long been cast as a Cinderella or hidden profession, working hard behind the scenes to ensure others’ success,” said Debbie Dore, chief executive at APM. “But this new report recasts the profession into the role of a ‘golden thread’ – a seam that runs through the fabric of UK plc, helping to develop new services, drive strategic change and sector-wide reform.”

The study tells the story of the value of a profession that far outweighs other established business services such as market­ing and law. In people terms, it reveals that the project profession employs one in 12, or 8 per cent of UK FTE, and makes a financial contribution of £156.5 billion of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy each year. By comparison, the marketing sector employs 415,000 or 1.5 per cent of UK FTE and contributes £36.5 billion.

Sector insight


The report reveals that the f­nancial and professional services, construction and healthcare sectors make up almost two thirds of the total project man­agement GVA. Sue Millington, programme manager at Network Rail, said that the figures were “impressive”. She added: “There are probably a lot more people who are project managers that are not included in that FTE figure, but it shows how impor­tant it is.”

Within the construction sector alone, 20 per cent – or one in five employees – are engaged in project management activities, something Jonathan Stewart, UK managing director at independent property and con­struction consultancy Gleeds wasn’t surprised about. “Con­struction is all about project management, so that makes perfect sense to me,” he said. “The number of projects is also likely to increase – you’ve only got to watch the news to see that we need more schools, hospitals, housing and infrastructure. New forms of energy need to be cre­ated, advances in technology, and all this requires project management. It just goes on and on.”

A positive future


For the most part, the study re­vealed that businesses across all sectors were optimistic about the future of project manage­ment. Fifty per cent of the survey respondents expected that the number of projects they under­take would remain at a similar level over the next three years and 40 per cent predicted growth in project-based activity.

With regard to budgets, a third of those surveyed expected that the size of project budgets would increase in the coming three years. An increased focus on value over cost, especially in the construction sector, and an ex­pected increase in the number of international projects were predicted to be key drivers of growth, according to the con­tributors. Additionally, as awareness of the profession continues to increase, it is expected that a greater propor­tion of project work will gain more distinct attribution to the profession itself, resulting in greater recognition and apprecia­tion of the role of the project manager.

With the contribution from and demand for the project profession being both more ex­tensive than many commentators may have predicted, and also set to increase, could we be heading towards the demand for qualified and experienced project person­nel starting to outstrip supply – ultimately leading to the failure of increasing numbers of pro­jects? Dore cautioned this could be a very real situation. “Too often companies are jeopardising project successes by relying on accidental project managers – employees who may show the right skills in other roles but don’t have the formal knowledge, experience or training to fully manage a scalable, complex or integral project from start to finish. Understandably it can be a tempting proposition – to task a successful employee to take on a new project, especially when budgets are limited – but having qualified and experienced project professionals at the heart of your organisation increases efficien­cies and mitigates losses.

That’s why this study highlights to business, government and the education sector the importance of training, develop­ment and professional standards (such as chartership) as the best way to develop a talent pool that is to scale and fit for purpose in today’s and tomorrow’s world.”

With 32 per cent of The Golden Thread respondents citing a challenge from the past three years as having access to enough people with the right project management skills and capabilities in the UK, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to be done to train the next generation of talent. Sandie Grimshaw, partner at PwC UK, explained the need for the UK to focus on skills further: “As ‘megaprojects’ increase in size and complexity, project professionals’ skills and attributes will need to change and adapt to handle media and political pressure along with strategic stakeholders in ways that are akin to professional diplomats,” she said.

It would appear then that having the right project manage­ment frameworks, methods and tools, and the right people to use them well, should now be con­sidered a necessity, not a luxury, and be something that runs through the heart of a business. It’s also now clear that we need to recognise the value of projects and project management to the economy and society. Dore con­cludes: “As a profession it’s critical that we promote project management, close any skills and talent gaps, and develop appropriate mechanisms to cre­ate an effective talent pipeline to fulfil this growing capability requirement.”

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© Business Reporter 2021

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