Developing the right toolkit to stay competitive

Strong preoccupation with talent and training

CEOs know they must ensure that the right human skills are available in a world already being disrupted by emerging technologies. 83% of UK CEOs rate this a top priority, higher than the 80% figure for their global peers. Just over half of all UK CEOs expect their headcount to increase in the year ahead (54%, exactly the same as for Global CEOs). In the UK, however, this number has decreased compared with last year (the figure was 63% in 2016).

There is widespread agreement on the need for businesses to train employees whose existing tasks may be threatened by automation, or to provide the company with the new skills it requires. 58% of UK CEOs agree that it is their responsibility to retrain employees in such circumstances, though the global figure is higher at 67%, while in China and Germany the figures given are in the mid 80% range. This could be due to the fact that, as the world’s most important manufacturing export economies, German and Chinese CEOs are simply more used to the concept of continuous reskilling.


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​"Organisational development is a boardroom topic and how we find talent and how we develop talent and how we retain talent is probably the most important aspect of this business."

Roy MacGregorFounder and Chairman, Global Energy Group

Working hard to enhance skills development

UK CEOs have shown real concern about access to skills, with 38% of UK CEOs stating that it is difficult to attract the right kind of digital talent, so it is not surprising that they are also taking practical steps to address this issue. 63% of them are either using or planning to use apprenticeships and internships to grow their workforce, while at the same time developing the skills they need.

UK CEOs are slightly more optimistic than the global average when it comes to skills availability both in their own industries and in their country. 64% of UK CEOs are concerned about skills availability in their specific industry (the global figure is higher at 75%), and 53% of UK CEOs worry about availability of skills nationally (the global figure is 72%).

They are also taking a careful look at their own organisations, structures and working practices. 77% of UK CEOs are improving compensation and benefit packages to some extent to attract or develop digital talent. This willingness to change extends to the HR function itself, with 46% of UK CEOs planning to revise or restructure the department to cope better with changing human needs.

UK CEOs are also taking a sideways glance at the skills around the boardroom table. 55% of them have some concerns about the skills of their own leadership team, which compares favourably with the 69% global average.

Exploring new uses of technology

Customer experience is an area of great concern for all CEOs globally. In the UK 28% of CEOs believe that robotics and Artificial Intelligence can be used to improve customer experience, though this is lower than the global figure of 48%. PwC research suggests that 45% of total economic gains achieved by 2030 will be driven by technology-enabled product enhancements that drive customer demand due to greater variety, personalisation and affordability.

A similar position is revealed in responses related to use of technology in planning. 41% of UK CEOs currently use scenario planning to improve decision-making, but globally the figure is 62%. UK CEOs have no doubts about the disruptive potential of emerging technology in reshaping the market, in impacting the ways in which they interact with customers and in achieving higher levels of speed and efficiency in their operations. They remain in line with their global peers in all these areas, while being less advanced than the fastest-moving economies, and in particular China.

Lukewarm about the role of acquisition

A key element in the CEO’s toolkit for future growth is potential acquisition. UK CEOs look conservative when compared with their global peers in the way they plan to collaborate or acquire start-ups and strategic partners. In the area of M&A, a similar picture can be seen.

Very few UK CEOs have been engaged in a significant acquisition (defined as a business that is 20% of the size or more than their current business) but a large proportion (28%) had been targeted for acquisition. This is almost twice as high as the global figure and may reflect the fact that the UK is seen more as a ‘selling’ economy than most similarly sized countries.

Determined to help educate their workforces for the future

UK CEOs show a growing awareness of the need to arm a diverse workforce with the right skills to succeed, and to play their part in developing the national and even global workforce of the future. 82% of UK CEOs state that they are implementing continuous learning and education programmes to develop their workforce: very much in line with the global figure of 85%. 88% of UK CEOs are implementing programmes of modernisation, which includes introduction of digital tools and a greater emphasis on collaborative working environments, while 85% are enhancing levels of mobile, remote and flexible working to suit the needs of a rapidly-changing workforce.

Most CEOs in this survey across all regions recognise their responsibility for reskilling, while there is growing evidence that individuals are more prepared than ever to take personal responsibility for developing their own skills.


Source: PwC's 21st CEO Survey

Peter Brown

Peter Brown

Head of Clients & Markets

Tel:+44 (0)20 7804 7007


Raj Mody

Raj Mody

Head of Tech Transformation & Investments

Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 0953


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