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South West workers worried about automation but like new-found workplace freedom, PwC study finds


People in the South West are concerned about how advancements in technology will affect job prospects but want greater control of where and when they work, new PwC research has found.

46% of respondents in the region to the Upskilling Hopes and Fears 2021 study are worried that automation is putting many people’s jobs at risk. A further 45% want governments to take any action needed to protect jobs from automation - which people consider the second-biggest disruptor - although there is also agreement that technology presents more opportunities than risks (55%).

However, fewer respondents in the South West consider the roles they do currently to be affected by automation - just 25% are concerned. Fewer than one in ten think their job will be made obsolete in the next five years too, the lowest figure out of any UK region. 

When it comes to considering what global trends will have the biggest impact, changing worker preferences, such as attitudes to remote working and benefits preferences, was seen as the biggest (52%). Reflecting this, 58% people in the South West - the highest figure out of any UK region - put being in control of their work, what they do and when they do it as the most important factor in their future career. 

Tom Ayerst, PwC’s Market Senior Partner in the West, commented:

“This study shows how people in the South West are responding to new ways of working presented by the pandemic. There is concern more broadly about the impact of automation on jobs, but also positivity around what technology can do.

“Part of this may be in response to increased flexibility around where and when people can work, which appears to be one impact of the pandemic that’s here to stay. And clearly this is reflective of the make-up of the workforce in our region, where working from home has been possible during the last year.

“The survey shows UK workers in general are less likely to believe they will be affected by technology than the global average. Our previous research shows that 30% of jobs are at risk of being lost to automation by the mid-2030, and we must be in a position to be able to respond to that.

“Upskilling should reduce social inequality but unless there is proper access to training it could end up doing the opposite. Government and business leaders have an invaluable role to play here. They need to work together to intensify efforts to ensure people in the most-at risk industries and groups get the opportunities they need.”

Looking more broadly, women are more likely than men to be concerned about their future job prospects, the survey of 2,000 UK workers and 32,500 globally found. Fewer than one third (29%) of female workers feel positively about how the future world of work is likely to affect them compared to nearly half (45%) of men. More women (41%) also say they feel nervous about what the future holds for them than men (29%). 

The findings follow a separate PwC study released at the start of March which showed that women are more likely to have been furloughed, as female-dominated industries such as accommodation and food services, and arts and entertainment were most affected by lockdowns. 

Just over one third (37%) of women responding to the latest survey feel that technological advancements will improve their future job prospects compared to 44% of men. Women are more likely to favour doing a job that makes a societal difference over one that maximises their income. Women, though, are more positive about believing they will earn enough money to pay for further education or retraining.

Katy Bennett, people and organisation director at PwC, said:

“Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women’s jobs it’s no surprise that they feel less positive about the future of work. However, it is important that organisations think carefully about how the introduction of new technology and ways of working will impact their female employees. If women are less positive, they may be less immediately active in engaging with new technology and reskilling programmes, with a resulting knock on impact on their experiences at work.”


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Neale Graham

Senior manager, Communications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7801 766188

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