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Upskilling Hopes and Fears

How does the UK public feel about the future of work?

UK workers want new skills, flexible working options and jobs that make a difference

After a year that’s seen working patterns disrupted and economic inequalities magnified, it’s more important than ever to understand how the public feel about the future of work. To do just that, we commissioned a survey of 32,517 workers (26 January to 8 February 2021) across 19 countries.

Our UK findings, based on the responses of 2,001 of these workers, suggest people have much to look forward to about the future of work. Many people want to continue the flexibility many have experienced during COVID-19 - with the vast majority preferring a mix of remote and in-person working, and only a small minority opting for a traditional office-based environment. Workers in the UK are also much more likely to choose to do a job that makes a difference over maximising their salary.

But there are also important issues to address. UK workers are among the least optimistic about how the future of work will affect them. They are also less willing than people in other countries to learn new skills in response to new technologies entering the workplace. And a worrying number feel that discrimination in the workplace is holding them back.

“Many of the jobs that have been lost to the pandemic have been in industries most prone to automation, meaning these jobs are unlikely to return. Upskilling should reduce social inequality - but unless there is proper access to training, it could end up doing the opposite. Government and business leaders need to work together to intensify efforts to ensure people in the most-at risk industries and groups get the opportunities they need.”

Fiona Camenzuli, People & Organisation Network Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Public priorities for the future of work

Workers want flexibility and purpose-driven jobs

UK workers are more conservative about the future of work than the global average: most believe the jobs that are around today will still be here in the future. However, the pandemic has encouraged more progressive attitudes towards the workplace, with the majority wanting a mix of home and in-person working in the future. The public’s preference for purpose-driven work over traditional measures of job satisfaction, like pay, suggests organisations need to do more for their communities: our CEO Survey found just 25% of UK CEOs are making changes to their organisational purpose to better reflect the role the organisation plays in society.

  • 36% think ‘traditional employment won't be around in the future’, vs 48% globally
  • 9% want a traditional commute and work environment full time - the same as the global average
  • 47% think ‘few people will have stable, long-term employment in the future’, vs 56% globally
  • 57% would prefer to do a job that makes a difference over maximising their income, vs 46% globally

Employees are split over automation’s risk to jobs

While UK workers are the least concerned of all 19 countries about their jobs becoming obsolete in 5 years, the risks posed by automation remain a worry for half the population. The UK is also one of the least confident of all countries about adapting to new technologies in the workplace. This is particularly concerning, as 62% of respondents to our UK CEO Survey named “having a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce” as one of their top 3 priorities. Organisations will need to build employee confidence if they are to achieve that goal.

  • 49% are worried that many jobs are at risk through automation, vs 60% globally
  • 19% think their jobs will be obsolete in 5 years, vs 39% globally
  • 44% of respondents don’t believe they’ll earn enough to pay for further education or retraining
  • 35% of all respondents lacked access to technology (to a great or some extent) which limited opportunity to develop skills

Societal inequalities are impacting access to opportunities

Our results suggest worrying levels of discrimination are still at play within the workplace, while inequalities in society are impacting people’s access to upskilling opportunities. Employees from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to think their job will be made obsolete within the next 5 years, although they do tend to feel more optimistic about the future than white workers.

Gender inequalities also come through clearly in the data: men generally feel optimistic about how the future world of work is likely to affect them, while women are more nervous about what the future will hold. Women are also more likely to prioritise purpose-driven jobs over those with high salaries, and this could cause the income inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19 to persist within the UK economy.

  • 27% of ethnic minority employees think their job will be made obsolete in the next 5 years, vs 18% of white employees
  • 41% of women feel nervous about what the future holds for them, vs 29% of men
  • 52% of minority ethnic employees think that technological developments will improve their job prospects in the future, vs 39% of white employees
  • 62% of women would prefer to do a job that makes a difference over maximising their income, vs 53% of men
  • 43% of minority ethnic employees say a lack of technology access is limiting upskilling opportunities, vs 33% of white workers

What will new ways of working mean for your people?

Listen to this episode of our Business in Focus podcast to delve deeper into our Hopes and Fears research.

Host Rowena Morris speaks to PwC People and Organisation leaders Fiona Camenzuli and Pete Brown about the latest workforce trends and how organisations can respond to them.

Listen now


Contact us

Fiona Camenzuli

Fiona Camenzuli

People & Organisation Network Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7739 876723

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