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Employees in denial about future trends set to transform the workplace

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New research shows gap between economic projections and workforce opinions over skills relevancy and jobs confidence. 

The City & Guilds Group 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 percent said it would have a negative impact, and 42 percent said it would not have any impact. Thinking about artificial intelligence, 20 percent said it would have a negative impact on their job prospects, and 48 percent said it would have no impact at all. Additionally, 62 percent are not worried about the rise in automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace and 69 percent 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 percent and 17 percent respectively citing these issues as having a negative impact on job prospects. Only 15 percent 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 percent) were confident in their skills, while 75 percent are confident their jobs will exist in ten years’ time. Less than a fifth (18 percent) worry that their skills will not be relevant in five years’ time, and more than half (55 percent) believe they are over-qualified for the job they currently do. Additionally, a third (34 percent) 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 percent are assured of their own productivity, while 81 percent are confident in their organisation’s productivity. Additionally, only 17 percent think that flat productivity could harm Britain’s economic prospects. By contrast, skills gaps continue to be a major cause for concern, with 67 percent recognising a void in their organisation. Because of such skills gaps, 43 percent say their organisations waste time, 36 percent say they waste money and 30 percent 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.[1] 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.[2] 

This perceived ‘false confidence’ was mirrored in the US and South Africa, where only 17 percent and 18 percent worried that their job will not exist in 10 years respectively. Likewise, 25 percent of US respondents and 12 percent of South African respondents do not recognise any threats that could stop their skills from being relevant. In addition, 54 percent of US respondents, 48 percent of Indian respondents and 50 percent 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 percent vs 86 percent). Notably, of all respondents, CEOs and senior leaders showed a higher-level of awareness of future trends. 70 percent 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 percent of general employees. 

However, the UK, US and South Africa also indicated a lack of confidence in the leadership capabilities of their businesses. 29 percent of UK, 23 percent of South African and 19 percent of US general employees recognised a skills gap in their senior leadership team, compared to 12 percent of South African, 13 percent of UK and 8 percent 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 percent of business leaders and 63 percent 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 percent of respondents were not actively developing their skills, and only 3 percent 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 percent), followed by management skills (60 percent) and people skills (52 percent), 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 percent most confident individuals, 23 percent are in the bottom half of the population in terms of proficiency.[3]

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.’ 

Further findings across all four markets include: Almost all respondents (95 percent) are confident in their own skills and productivity 86 percent of respondents think their skills will be relevant in ten years’ time – and 17 percent do not think there are any threats that could stop their skills being relevant Four-fifths (80 percent) of respondents are confident that their job will exist in ten years’ time Just 14 percent worry that their skills will not be relevant in five years’ time. More than half (55 percent) believe they are over-qualified for the job they currently do and a third (34 percent) feel as though their skills are being under-utilised by their employers. Respondents recognised the need to upskill for the future: 92 percent are actively taking steps to develop their skills, primarily through learning on the job (65 percent), company-provided training (49 percent) and self-teaching (48 percent) 76 percent recognise skills gaps in their organisation; because of such skills gaps, 41 percent say their organisations waste time, 38 percent say it makes their organisation less productive, and 34 percent say they waste money

[3] In order to provider learners with personalised training, Filtered asks users are asked to gauge their confidence across a skillset, followed by subject-matter questions to measure skills proficiency effectively. These two data sources – subjective confidence and objective proficiency score – enable Filtered to calibrate confidence and understand where individuals’ confidence is a good guide to their abilities, and where it tends to mislead. The user data captures information from across the world. Approximately 80 percent of respondents were from the US & UK.

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