PwC survey reveals pandemic accelerating upskilling, but key groups missing out

31 March, 2021

While 40% of workers around the world say their digital skills improved during the lockdown, data shows unequal access to career and training opportunities.

75% of Irish CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills, but just one in four plan to significantly invest.

One of the largest ever studies of the global workforce shows:

  • Two in five believe their job will be obsolete within five years
  • Half of the global workforce report missing out on career opportunities due to bias
  • Training opportunities focused on those who already have high levels of skills
  • Younger people report being more focused on maximising income than 'making a difference'
  • Only one in 10 of those who can work remotely want to go back to a traditional commute and work environment full time
  • But people are taking their future into their own hands: 77% are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain and 49% would like to set up their own business
An aerial photo of the river Liffey in Dublin city centre at twilight.

A new survey of 32,500 workers in 19 countries carried out by PwC paints a picture of a global workforce that sees the shift to remote working as just the tip of the iceberg. Reflecting the fact the pandemic has accelerated a number of workforce trends, 60% are worried that automation is putting many jobs at-risk; 48% believe 'traditional employment won't be around in the future' and 39% think it is likely that their job will be obsolete within five years.

However, this is not a counsel of despair as 40% of workers say their digital skills have been improved through the prolonged period of lockdown, and claim they'll continue to embrace training and skill development. 77% are 'ready to learn new skills or completely retrain' and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. And, 80% are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace.

In addition, 49% of respondents are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business.

Half of workforce report missing out on career opportunities or training due to prejudice

The survey also found that 50% of workers say they've faced discrimination at work which led to them missing out on career advancement or training. 13% report missing out on opportunities as a result of ethnicity and 14% of workers have experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender, with women twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men. 13% report discrimination on the basis of class, with post-graduates and others with higher qualifications more likely to report prejudice. Younger people are as likely as older people to report discrimination based on age.

On top of that, the survey found there are disparities in access to upskilling opportunities. While 46% of people with postgraduate degrees say their employer gives them many opportunities to improve their digital skills, just 28% of people with school-leaver qualifications say the same. Industries like retail or transport, which are most at-risk of disruption, score just 25% and 20% respectively; while banking scores 42%.

Gerard McDonough Partner at PwC Ireland People and Organisation commented: "Three-quarters (75%) of Irish CEOs in PwC's recent CEO survey stated that they are concerned about the availability of key skills, higher than global CEOs for eight years running. However, just a quarter (25%) say they plan double digit investment in leadership and talent development and just 36% will focus on skills as part of their workforce strategy to be more competitive."

"If current patterns in access to training persist, upskilling will increase social inequality when it should be doing precisely 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. Automation and technological disruption are inevitable, but we can control whether its negative effects are managed or not."

Younger people more focused on maximising income than 'making a difference' if forced to choose

Three-quarters of employees globally (75%) say they want to work for an organisation that will make a 'positive contribution to society'.

However, economic insecurity is limiting people's ability to pursue purpose driven careers, with younger people particularly affected. Overall, 54% of those polled said, if forced to choose, they would prefer a job that enabled them to 'take every opportunity to maximise their income' over a job that 'makes a difference' (46%).

Interestingly, those between 18 and 34 are more likely than other generations to prioritise income over purpose in their job with 57% prioritising 'maximising their income' over 'making a difference' (43%), a margin of 14 points. Those over 55 prioritise making a difference by a margin of eight points, which rises to 22 points amongst workers over 65.

Ciara Fallon Director at PwC Ireland People and Organisation said: "As the world continues to grapple with a global health crisis and economic uncertainty, we've seen employees come to demand more from the business community, expecting their employers to make a positive contribution to society. Fortunately, focusing on societal impact and maximising profit are not mutually exclusive, and being a purpose-led business can actually help boost your bottom line. In fact, over half (51%) of Irish CEOs in PwC's recent CEO survey confirmed that they are either making changes or considering making changes to their organisational purpose to better reflect the role their organisation plays in society."

Employees want the option to work remotely moving forward

The survey concludes that remote working will persist post-lockdown. Of those who can work remotely, 72% of say they prefer a mixture of in-person and remote working, with only 9% stating they'd like to go back to their traditional work environment full time. This is particularly true of professionals, office workers, business owners and the self-employed, all of whom are able to perform their jobs remotely using technology. Home working need not be limited to professional jobs. 43% of manual workers and 45% of semi-skilled workers say there are many elements of their job that they are able to do remotely.

People's attitudes to working from home also change by location, providing further evidence of how the pandemic has increased the global digital divide. Workers in metropolitan areas (66%) are more likely to work in roles that could allow remote working than those who live in rural areas (44%).

Workers torn on privacy and technology

44% of workers globally would agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their performance at work including sensors and wearable devices, with 31% against. However, many would not go as far as allowing their employers access to their personal data. 41% of respondents said that they were unwilling to give their employer access to their personal data including social media profiles, with only 35% willing.


Notes to editors

Between 26 January 2021 and 8 February 2021, PwC commissioned a survey of 32,517 members of the general public. Respondents included workers, business owners, contract workers, students, unemployed people looking for work, and those on furlough or who were temporarily laid off. The survey polled workers in 19 countries: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UAE, UK, and the US.

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Contact us

Gerard McDonough

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6170

Ciara Fallon

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8857

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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