Northern Ireland workers opting in for a digital future

Workers in Northern Ireland are being offered more upskilling opportunities by employers to adjust to increasing automation in the workplace than any other UK region.

There is also greater appetite to prepare for the digital transformation here than other regions, according to the research from PwC NI, which found that four out of five workers in Northern Ireland would take the opportunity to better understand and use technology. And, behind only London, 58% revealed they’re prepared to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to improve future employability in a world of increasing automation.

However the Upskilling Hopes and Fears report suggests this willingness to adapt is driven more by concern that automation is putting jobs at risk (63%) than optimism that it will present exciting opportunities (21%).

While almost 80% of workers in Northern Ireland believed that their day-to-day job would be improved by technology, when asked about their concerns the majority highlighted fears of being made redundant (37%), followed by not having the right skills to adapt (25%) or being able to learn relevant skills (13%).

Positively, the survey found that the region’s employers are leading the way when it comes to helping their people to prepare for the digital transformation. With 63% of respondents saying they were already getting opportunities to improve their digital skills, this is the highest in the UK, though only 13% said they are getting many opportunities compared to the UK average of 14%. 

The upskilling addresses the main concern reported by 79% of CEOs in PwC’s annual survey, released earlier this year, that the availability of skills was the top business threat that would impact on their growth prospects. 

Lynne Rainey, Partner at PwC NI, commented:

“With Northern Ireland’s growing digital sector, it’s hugely positive to see how open workers are to engaging and adapting to the opportunities that automation and technology will bring. Though this transformation is not without challenges, the economy will benefit from an increasingly skilled and capable workforce. A large part of this is down to the proactive approaches and investment taken by employers.

“As more people improve their digital skills, we expect to see a switch from action which is motivated by fear, to one that is inspired by opportunities. The onset of a new era in digital advancement, with the likes of 5G in Belfast which will help local businesses to remain competitive and attract investment, will mean much more potential for people here to develop exceptional careers in this sector.”

Kevin Ellis, Chairman of PwC UK, commented:

“The mismatch between the skills people have and those needed for the digital world is a major  global challenge. While technology will likely create as many jobs as it displaces, people need to learn new skills and develop their understanding in order to adapt. Without combined efforts from governments, businesses and NGOs, swathes of people risk being left behind, exacerbating social and economic inequalities.  The UK’s track record in education and innovation means we’re phenomenally well placed to step up and take action.”

Older generations are also at risk of losing out to their younger counterparts - 64% of workers aged 18-34 say they are offered opportunities, compared with 48% of 35-54 year olds and 41% of ages 55 and over. Younger generations are the most optimistic, with 73% of 18-34 year olds concluding that technology will make their work better, compared to only 47% of ages 55 and over.

The survey builds on PwC analysis showing that 30% of jobs could be impacted by automation by the mid-2030s. 


Contact us

General Enquiries

Northern Ireland, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)289 024 5454

Experienced Careers

Northern Ireland, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)289 024 5454

Follow us: