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Making the UK fairer: how we work

How can the government transform to help people in work prepare for the challenges of automation and globalisation?

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The public are telling us that a fair society is one where everyone has access to good jobs and are able to earn a decent living. However, many of the skills we use today are at risk of becoming redundant. Without intervention this will severely impact people’s ability to access work opportunities as part of a fair society.

Key findings: what do the public think?

Is automation on the radar?

Almost half of our survey respondents (45%) felt that fairness entails everyone earning enough money to support themselves and their families. While this aspiration sounds familiar to many of us, automation and digitisation are presenting what some see as a threat to today’s world of work: 46% think that their job will change in 10 years due to technology. As the public becomes more aware of automation, it’s essential that government and business work together to invest in upskilling initiatives, providing opportunities for people to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by automation.

Automation - a threat or an opportunity?

We found that the UK public has relatively pessimistic views about the challenges presented by automation, with more respondents seeing risks (40%) than opportunities (21%). Similarly, 38% of our respondents feel concerned about the impact of automation on their jobs, and 26% feel anxious. In contrast to the UK’s gloomy outlook, 50% of respondents in a recent PwC global survey saw more opportunities than risks arising from automation. This research also found that UK workers were offered the fewest opportunities to upskill, and consequently, only half said that they feel well-equipped to use new technologies that are being introduced into the workplace.

Who is responsible for upskilling?

For any upskilling initiative to be successful, it’s important to build on the public’s individual awareness and willingness to engage. When we asked the public to vote for the three groups that they believe are responsible for leading this national transition, most of our survey respondents said the onus falls on national government (63%), business (60%) and local/regional government (57%). This presents a major opportunity for cross-sector collaboration, and creates a need for businesses like PwC to support the government in leading a major upskilling drive, starting with the changes we’re making within our own workforce.

Mind the gaps

On a national level, the findings seem encouraging. They suggest that the population is broadly aware of the ways in which automation might shape existing jobs, and that they are prepared to learn new skills as a result of that awareness. But our research also exposes significant gaps in awareness and understanding of potential changes to the way we work.


There are clear gaps in the general level of understanding of the impact of automation and the corresponding readiness to respond. For example, young people in cities, as well as black and minority ethnic groups, appear to be more excited about the prospect of automation and learning new skills than the average UK citizen. In contrast, those in low paying jobs are least ready and willing to reskill.

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Our research shows that while workers want to upskill, businesses are not necessarily offering the opportunities to do so, particularly when it comes to unskilled workers. A recent global PwC survey on upskilling found that 59% of UK workers without education beyond school age were offered no opportunities by their employers compared with 44% of university graduates.

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Our research suggests that job loss through automation is a high risk for those who feel that ‘Britain treats me unfairly’. These members of the public are often the least prepared to upskill, and tend to feel that the government is most responsible for helping them. They already feel left behind by globalisation and are most likely to have family members who suffered during past structural changes to the economy. If nothing is done to help them, this group will grow in number.

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“Everyone should have access to a fulfilling role and a decent standard of living and there’s agreement across the political spectrum on the importance of upskilling to facilitate this. Businesses, trade organisations and the government must collaborate to find solutions that work for everyone - and this needs to happen urgently.”

Quentin ColeLeader of Industry for Government and Health Industries, PwC UK

What next?

Many of the skills we use today are at risk of becoming redundant in light of the innovations of tomorrow. Upskilling should be prioritised as a way of equipping workers and empowering them to have access to fulfilling jobs that also provide a comfortable standard of living.

It’s imperative that businesses, trade organisations and the government understand the importance of collaboration in responding to the rapid evolution of technology and automation. Each institution has its own role to play in shaping the workforce of the future, but none will be successful if they operate in isolation.

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