• Almost 40% of workers think their job will be obsolete within five years, according to PwC’s Hopes and fears 2021 report.
  • Six in 10 are concerned about machines taking over their jobs.
  • Humans and machines are predicted to spend an equal amount of time on tasks at work by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum.

After a year that has had a huge impact on the world of work, and in which 114 million people lost their jobs, half of workers still feel excited or confident about the future.

But six out of 10 are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk and 39% think their job will be obsolete within five years.

The majority of people (77%) are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain, and 40% of workers have improved their digital skills during the pandemic.

These are among the findings of Hopes and fears 2021, a survey of more than 32,500 workers in 19 countries by professional services firm PwC which found workers want more digital skills, more inclusive workplaces, and greater flexibility.

a chart asking workers thoughts on the future of work
60% of workers are worried automation is putting many jobs at risk.
Image: Hopes and fears 2021, PwC

Key themes

The survey touched on how people feel about job security, diversity and inclusion, reskilling, remote work and working for a purpose-driven organization.

Half of workers surveyed said they’ve faced discrimination at work linked to ethnicity, gender, class or age which led to them missing out on career advancement or training.

"If current patterns in access to training persist, upskilling will increase social inequality when it should be doing precisely the opposite,” said Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader of PwC’s people and organization practice.

While not everyone has been able to work from home in the pandemic, the survey found that almost three-quarters of workers who can work remotely want a mix of remote and in-person working. Only 9% said they’d like to go back to their traditional work environment full-time.

PwC expects the offices of tomorrow to be more focused on spaces where teams come together to brainstorm, collaborate, and problem-solve.

a chart asking workers what their ideal working environment looks like
Most people expect a mix of remote and face-to-face working.
Image: Hopes and fears 2021, PwC

Future of jobs

COVID-19 cost workers $3.7 trillion globally as working hours fell almost 9% in the last three months of 2020, compared with 2019, according to the International Labour Organization’s seventh edition of COVID-19 and the world of work.

The pandemic’s impact on work is explored in depth in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020.

It found that automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, was creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers, with technology adoption accelerating in some areas.

“By 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal,” it said.

The report estimates that 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles could emerge.