British employees are in denial about future trends set to transform the workplace
The City & Guilds Group has unveiled the findings of its first Skills Confidence Report – an international study of 8,000 employees in the United Kingdom, United States, South Africa and India. The study measured how confident people feel about their skills and jobs today, and in five and ten years’ time.
The research reveals that the British workforce is unthreatened by the predicted rise of automation and artificial intelligence. When asked about the impact of automation on their job prospects over the next decade, 18% said it would have a negative impact, and 42% said it would not have any impact. Thinking about artificial intelligence, 20% said it would have a negative impact on their job prospects, and 48% said it would have no impact at all. Additionally, 62% are not worried about the rise in automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace and 69% are confident that a machine could not do their job.
UK respondents were also surprisingly unconcerned about the impact of immigration and globalisation, with only 27% and 17% respectively citing these issues as having a negative impact on job prospects. Only 15% said that immigration could stop their skills from being relevant in five years’ time.
Further highlighting the workforce’s certainty, the majority of respondents (92%) were confident in their skills, while 75% are confident their jobs will exist in ten years’ time. Less than a fifth (18%) worry that their skills will not be relevant in five years’ time, and more than half (55%) believe they are over-qualified for the job they currently do. Additionally, a third (34%) feel as though their skills are under-utilised by their employers.
Despite concerns about flat productivity in the UK and subsequent reduction in economic growth, it is not a major concern among employees either. 92% are assured of their own productivity, while 81% are confident in their organisation’s productivity. Additionally, only 17% think that flat productivity could harm Britain’s economic prospects. By contrast, skills gaps continue to be a major cause for concern, with 67% recognising a void in their organisation. Because of such skills gaps, 43% say their organisations waste time, 36% say they waste money and 30% say it makes their organisation less productive.
The findings appear to fly in the face of economic projections and media commentary about the future of the workforce. The World Economic Forum has described a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where the role of humans in the workforce will change in favour of smart machines and automation. Similarly, Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England hypothesised in a speech to the TUC in late 2015 that up to 15 million British jobs could be at risk due to trends such as automation.
This perceived ‘false confidence’ was mirrored in the US and South Africa, where only 17% and 18% worried that their job will not exist in 10 years respectively. Likewise, 25% of US respondents and 12% of South African respondents do not recognise any threats that could stop their skills from being relevant. In addition, 54% of US respondents, 48% of Indian respondents and 50% of South African respondents believe they are overqualified for their jobs. And while there was little difference between how qualified general employees, middle managers and business leaders felt, business leaders were far more confident than general employees that their skills were being fully utilised (69% vs 86%).
Notably, of all respondents, CEOs and senior leaders showed a higher-level of awareness of future trends. 70% CEOs and senior leaders across all countries agreed that automation and artificial intelligence could replace a number of jobs in their organisation in ten years’ time, compared to just 53% of general employees.
However, the UK, US and South Africa also indicated a lack of confidence in the leadership capabilities of their businesses. 29% of UK, 23% of South African and 19% of US general employees recognised a skills gap in their senior leadership team, compared to 12% of South African, 13% of UK and 8% of US business leaders.
When considering technology, India is the only market where employees seemed concerned about the impact of technology on their jobs in the future: 79% of business leaders and 63% of general employees believe automation and AI could replace a number of jobs in the workforce.
Commenting on the report findings, Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, said:
‘It’s rare that a week goes by without some new evidence pointing to a fundamental shift in what’s required of the workforce of the future. From the automation of tasks for everyone from journalists and junior lawyers to retail assistants, to a rapid rise in flexible and intergenerational working, the evidence is clear that the world of work is changing. Yet as our research shows, the workforce seems to be living in ignorant bliss about their skills and job security.
‘It’s vital that leaders step up and tell the story of what the future workplace could look like and the skills that will be required. They also need to plan ahead and invest in the right training initiatives to support their employees to develop their skills for the future. Otherwise, this false confidence could lead to skills gaps continuing to increase, productivity continuing to stagnate, and businesses struggling to compete in the global market.’
Encouragingly, respondents from all countries recognised the need to upskill for the future. Only 8% of respondents were not actively developing their skills, and only 3% said that no skills were important for their future career prospects. When asked about what skills would be most important for their career prospects in ten years’ time, leadership skills topped the list (61%), followed by management skills (60%) and people skills (52%), emphasising the importance of human-led skills compared to skills that could be automated.
Adding to the debate, data from online training company Filtered implies that individuals’ skills confidence could be misplaced. Filtered’s algorithm tests people’s proficiencies to provide tailored training courses, matched to their current skills. Data from around 35,000 users of its Microsoft Excel and Management training highlights that of the 25% most confident individuals, 23% are in the bottom half of the population in terms of proficiency.
Chris Littlewood, Head of Content & Science at Filtered said:
‘Our data shows that people are poor at estimating their own proficiency. In the context of diagnosing our own skills gaps, the bad news is that we are particularly poor at assessing our proficiency in skills where we are weak. We lack the expertise in the subject to know what we don't know. Worse still, for skills that are relatively new to us, the tendency is to over-estimate our ability, leading to the sort of complacency that the City & Guilds Group has identified.'
The research findings will be discussed at the City & Guilds Group’s upcoming Skills Debate, on Monday 20 June. The debate will be hosted by Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of London, Alderman.