Employers back offices for intergenerational learning, social mobility, and meeting L&D responsibilities, finds PwC survey


Over three-quarters (76%) of UK businesses say employers have a learning and development (L&D) responsibility to encourage office workers back to the office, according to a PwC survey of 150 UK employers. The same number (76%) believe employers have an economic responsibility to encourage workers back. Just 7% disagree, while 17% are undecided on both these factors.  

The survey also found that a large majority (71%) of employers believe being in the office offers employees from less wealthy backgrounds* opportunities that wouldn't be accessible if they always worked from home (9% disagree, 19% undecided). Employers see the role of the office as multifaceted, with the majority of businesses (72%) saying their offices play a significant role in helping to educate and upskill local communities, showing offices are woven into the fabric of local communities. Additionally, four out of five say that being in the office allows different generations of employees to learn from each other (80% agree, 5% disagree, 15% undecided). 

Previously released PwC data found over a quarter (26%) of UK employees are extremely or very concerned about being overlooked for development opportunities.

Hybrid working practices and digital skills top employers’ L&D priorities

The growing focus on ESG, accelerating digital transformation, and adapting to changing working practices are among the issues driving changing L&D needs. 

The new survey of employers found that gender topped the list of L&D topics in the last year - 62% conducted training or employee education on gender equality, while 58% have offered racial equality training. Almost half (46%) had offered broad climate change awareness training. 

Digital acceleration is a priority for the majority of businesses with six out of ten (61%) companies offering training targeted at supporting their organisation’s digital transformation.

The shift to hybrid working has forced employers to consider how their workforce is prepared for the evolving world of work. Most (85%) organisations have or plan to hold (58% and 27% respectively) training on hybrid working practices, such as building virtual relationships, managing hybrid teams or running hybrid meetings.

Over half of organisations (52%) have offered employees who joined during the pandemic training programmes to catch up on missed learning and development opportunities - with a further 31% planning to this year.

Alastair Woods, head of pay and reward at PwC UK, comments: 

“The home vs office debate can be quite divisive, but our research shows that employers agree some face-to-face interaction is crucial for learning and development, particularly for those who are new to the workplace and have had less access to opportunity. While the cost of commuting will be felt more acutely by less wealthy workers, there will be benefits for making this investment.

“Online learning can be an impactful and highly effective platform for some learning, and we are seeing a lot of innovation, including Virtual Reality here. However most employees still need to come together to put that learning into practice in a face-to-face setting. Employers are investing more in in-person training sessions to demonstrate their value, and they are becoming events in themselves. Many are adding social elements, which not only makes them more attractive and more appealing to commute for, but also helps employees develop their soft skills and networking abilities - both of which have taken a back seat during covid.” 

Louise Brownhill, Chief Learning Officer at PwC, said:

“With growing competition for top talent, upskilling the current workforce - rather than recruiting new skills - is more important than ever. This means everything from helping people catch up on learning opportunities that were less accessible during lockdowns to navigating how to train new leaders for hybrid working.

“The pandemic accelerated the movement to online learning. Now that in-person learning is possible again, we’re among the employers that are excited about what a hybrid approach offers. 

“Our unconscious bias training, In My Shoes, is an immersive digital experience combining traditional in person and online learning. Using VR participants experience a day in the life of someone from an ethnic minority background. The interactive experience, followed by a facilitator led debrief session, increases the empathy and emotional understanding of participants leading to a longer lasting change.”


Notes to editors:

*The survey asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement; Offices provide access to opportunities for employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds that they wouldn't get if they always worked from home.

  • 150 employers were surveyed in April 2022 by PwC Research, the firm's global centre of excellence for market and social research. All respondents had responsibility for the recruitment of new graduates or school and college leavers, and the application of employment policies within their organisation. There is no accompanying report. 

2,086 people who work or are active in the UK labour market were surveyed in March 2022 as part of PwC’s global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey.  The survey revealed that Millennials and Gen Z are the generations most concerned about this. Gen Z workers are also the most concerned about lack of opportunities to work with and learn from colleagues with advanced digital or technical skills (24%), and about their employer not teaching them relevant skills for their career (21%).

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