NEARLY one in five people in Huntingdonshire have no qualifications - but the situation is steadily improving, figures from the 2011 Census show.

The statistics from last year's national survey, just published, reveal significant changes to the district's demographics, including a growing and ageing population whose work habits are changing to suit modern times.

Overall the population has risen by 12,554, to 169,508, with the elderly population up by 2,488 to 11,811.

As a result more people are working in health and social care, which takes up 11.2 per cent of Huntingdonshire industry, and although manufacturing has gone down, it still represents 12.2 per cent.

Daniel Buckridge, corporate project officer at Huntingdonshire District Council, said that was partly because manufacturing companies have outsourced more of their previous activities, meaning those who were classed in that sector are now registered under different sectors.

However, he said there was a "wider spread" of people across industries, with health and education rising partly because they have been protected from the worst of the public sector cuts.

Mr Buckridge said HDC would now "look at everything in the census and see what it tells us about the area and how changes might affect our resources".

He said the data may be used to change the way the council delivers its services to take account of a changing population.

Huntingdonshire Regional College principal Susanne Stent said it was "clearly not satisfactory" that 19.2 per cent of people had nothing to show potential employers but pointed out it was lower than the national average of 22.5 per cent.

In 2001, the number of people aged 16-75 without qualifications was 27,078 but now the figure for unqualified people aged 16 and above stands at 26,361.

Mrs Stent says the college's focus is now on "employability skills and making sure they match with the needs of employers".

It has started a scheme with the Job Centre to liaise with employers to find out exactly what they are looking for in new recruits.

If they train unemployed people to meet those skills, those jobseekers will get a guaranteed interview under the initiative.

"As long as we can offer people a range of provision, we can re-engage people and get them back on track," she said.

Mr Buckridge added that the census data showed a fall in the number of people with Level One qualifications, which suggests more people have moved up to a higher level.

Out of 348 local authority areas, Huntingdonshire is the 253rd lowest for people with no qualifications.

The census also showed a sharp drop in the number of people declaring Christianity as their religion, down from 74.5 per cent in 2001 to 60.8 per cent last year.

At the same time the number of people labelling themselves as of no religion has gone up by 13 per cent, but the Bishop of Huntingdon, the Right Reverend David Thomson, said it was more a matter of identification.

"Perhaps people today are not abandoning faith but simply much more wary of labels and institutions than before," he said. "Over the same period church attendance has gone up, not down, and research shows that people who say they have no religion may still believe in God and Jesus and even go to church.

"We are still very much a faithful nation."