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Hopes and Fears 2021

Pandemic has accelerated digital upskilling, but key groups still miss out - PwC survey

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

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

  • Two in five believe their job will be obsolete within 5 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 1 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 re-train and 49% would like to set up their own business

A new survey of 32,500 workers in 19 countries 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% of workers globally (compared to 72% in South Africa) 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 5 years. In South Africa, 59% agree that ‘traditional employment won’t be around in the future’ and 67% believe few people will have stable long-term employment in the future. Furthermore, 61% of employees globally (South Africa:73% say their government should take action to protect jobs from automation.

However, this is not a counsel of despair, as 40% of workers globally say their digital skills have been improved through the prolonged period of lockdown, and claim they'll continue to embrace training and skill development. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 37% of South African workers say they have adequate digital skills to enable them to cope in their current working environment.

Globally, 77% are 'ready to learn new skills or completely re-train' and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. In South Africa, 94% of workers say they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable in the near future. Furthermore, 91% of South African workers say they continually learn new skills so that they can keep up with changing technology.

The majority of respondents globally (80%) are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace, with a large majority of those asked in India (69%) and in South Africa (66%) saying they are ‘very’ confident.

In addition, 49% of respondents globally (South Africa: 77%) are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business.

Barry Vorster PwC’s HR Technology and Culture Leader says:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of work, forcing many employees into a fully remote work environment and challenging employers to rethink how they support and engage their workforce.

 “As companies accelerate their automation plans and many jobs continue to be remote, employees across every sector will need to acquire new skills that enable them to think and work in different ways. The future isn’t a fixed destination. We need to plan for dynamic rather than static tomorrows.”

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.

In South Africa, 32% of females and 14% of males say they have been overlooked for career advancement based on gender discrimination. Furthermore, 45% of males and 43% of females say they have also missed out on career advancement or access to training on the grounds of race/ethnicity.

Vorster adds:

“For businesses, the pursuit of a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t just about doing the right thing. Studies have come to the same conclusion: Diversity is good for business.

“Inclusive teams lead to different perspectives, creative thinking and open collaboration. A diverse workforce and deliberate inclusion efforts help drive better outcomes that can actually lead to the broader economic development of our society, which benefits everyone.”

On top of this, 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.

Just under half of South African workers (45%) say their current employer is giving them some opportunities to improve their digital skills outside of normal work hours.

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

Three-quarters of workers globally (75%) say they want to work for an organisation that will make a ‘positive contribution to society.’ This feeling was especially acute in China (87%), India (90%), and South Africa (90%).

However, economic insecurity is limiting people’s ability to pursue purpose driven careers, with younger people particularly affected. Overall, 54% of those polled (compared to 61% in South Africa) 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’ (Global 46%; South Africa 39%).

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 8 points, which rises to 22 points amongst workers over 65.

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 can 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.

 Just over a third of South African workers (33%) say that in the future their ideal work environment would be a mix of face-to-face and remote working; 24% favoured mostly virtual working with some face-to face interaction; and 27% opted for a wholly virtual place where employees can contribute from any location.

 Vorster comments:

“As leaders reimagine the offices of tomorrow, we expect the focus to be on increasing space where people can initiate, develop, and strengthen relationships. Where they can experience the culture and brand. And of course, where teams come together to brainstorm, collaborate, and problem solve.”

 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.

While 52% of South African workers are happy for their employers to use technology to monitor their performance at work,50% are not in favour of their employers having access to their personal data such as social media etc.


Contact us

 Rianté Padayachee

Rianté Padayachee

Media and Communications Specialist, PwC South Africa

Tel: +27 11 797 5727

Verena Pillay

Verena Pillay

Integrated Content Lead, PwC South Africa

Tel: +27 (0) 11 797 4873

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