Davos Agenda

Workplace skills are changing. Here's how to support employees

Amongst workers whose jobs do not require specialist skills, only 15% expect that their skills needs will change in the next five years, compared with 51% of their counterparts whose jobs are more specialised.

Amongst workers whose jobs do not require specialist skills, only 15% expect that their skills needs will change in the next five years, compared with 51% of their counterparts whose jobs are more specialised. Image: Freepik

Peter Brown
Global People & Organization Leader, PwC, UK
Bhushan Sethi
Strategy&, Principal, PwC, US
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • The workplace is undergoing rapid transformation and employees need the skills and support to adapt.
  • A new survey asked nearly 54,000 workers, in 46 countries and territories, how they are responding to change.
  • The results reveal a growing skills gap which creates significant risk for business, workers and society.

For employees across every industry, it is no longer just another day at work. Every aspect of the working environment is being redefined as businesses address a raft of changes from artificial intelligence (AI) to the climate crisis.

PwC's 2023 Hopes and Fears survey of nearly 54,000 workers in 46 countries and territories asked workers how they are responding to these needs for change. Employees told us that they expect to have to transform themselves, with 58% of workers saying the skills they need will change significantly in the coming five years.

Many say they will need to acquire new skills and embark on a path of continual learning, unlearning and relearning to upskill and embrace new ways of working – otherwise, there is a significant risk that they will be left behind.

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What do employees think about changing skills?

Workers are more likely to be enthusiastic than pessimistic about the changes that lie ahead, with more believing AI will lead to positive outcomes than negative ones. Most are confident their employer will help them acquire digital, collaboration and leadership skills.

However, our survey also found evidence of a growing gap between people with specialist skills and those without. Amongst workers whose jobs do not require specialist skills, only 15% expect that their skills needs will change in the next five years, compared with 51% of their counterparts whose jobs are more specialised.

The less specialised group are also less likely to believe that soft (or human) skills, like adaptability, critical thinking, and collaboration, will be important to their career in the coming five years. This is not the view of employers, who in recent World Economic Forum research, saw increased importance for complex problem-solving skills in the workplace, as well as the rising importance of resilience, flexibility and agility.

This growing divide risks leading to greater inequality as workers without specialist skills struggle more than those without them to adapt to the changes and therefore increasingly get left behind.

Employees with specialist skills recognise the need for ups killing and are more ready for reinvention.
Employees with specialist skills recognise the need for ups killing and are more ready for reinvention. Image: PWC

How can businesses take a skills-first approach?

The survey findings are a critical call to action for business leaders to step up and help all of their workers – whether those with specialist skills or those without – prepare for the changes that lie ahead. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because otherwise, they will face serious gaps in their workforce. Businesses across industries are facing the prospect of significant labour and skills shortages over the next few years, meaning that CEOs must reinvent the workplace if they are to retain and develop employees.

Bold times require bold measures and so business leaders need to dig deep to consider innovative ways to unlock and support the talents of their workforce, which encompasses both their workers with specialist skills and those without them. Tackling these challenges will mean different things to different companies, but there are some steps that make sense across industries and sectors. According to the survey, more than one-third (35%) of workers have skills that are not apparent from their CVs or job histories, indicating that companies may be overlooking existing talent.

The World Economic Forum in collaboration with PwC is calling for a rethink of the way that businesses recruit new workers with the introduction of a skills-first approach, which focuses on a person’s competencies rather than on their qualifications or job history. Recent research published by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with PwC found that creating skills-first labour markets could help more than 100 million people worldwide get better jobs.

Another important step is to introduce or improve measures to help employees improve and develop within the company. The survey found that more than three-quarters of well-paid workers seek feedback at work and use it to improve their performance, while only 61% of lower-paid workers do this, suggesting that many businesses could look at ways of providing valuable feedback to all workers, whether they have specialist skills or not.

Successful leaders know that the currency of human capital isn’t jobs or roles, but skills. Forward-looking companies need to not only redesign their career paths around skills, they also need to understand the importance of supporting, engaging and encouraging their employees through the transitions that are going to be needed. The next few years are going to be challenging for both workers and businesses as they seek to adapt to changing circumstances in the most effective way. The more they can work together to help each other adapt and grow, the better it will be, not only for their own outlook but for our society as a whole.

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaJobs and SkillsFuture of Work
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