Illustration of a professional man standing on top of a rock and looking out into the distance, symbolising looking ahead to the future of work.
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Future of work survey: 60pc of workers worried about automation

31 Mar 2021

PwC has published the findings from a massive survey of 32,500 people on the future of work, highlighting concerns around automation, privacy and bias.

How do people around the world feel about the future of work? PwC recently surveyed 32,500 people across 19 countries in a bid to learn more about perceptions of remote working, automation, bias, skills and more.

Surveying workers, business owners, students, unemployed people and other groups, PwC said the findings suggest that global workforces view the shift to remote working as “just the tip of the iceberg”.

So, based on the survey, here are some of the things people are expecting from the future of work across six key areas.

1. Automation

Of the 32,500 survey participants, 60pc expressed concerns around automation putting their jobs at risk, 48pc don’t believe ‘traditional employment’ will still be around in the future and 39pc said they think their job will be obsolete within five years.

2. Bias

Half of respondents said they had missed out on career opportunities such as advancement and training because of bias or discrimination.

A total of 14pc said they had experienced gender discrimination, with women twice as likely as men to report the issue. 13pc said they had missed opportunities because of their ethnicity and 13pc said they had been discriminated against on the basis of class. When it comes to age discrimination, younger people were just as likely as older people to report incidents.

3. Skills

Reports of bias also came into the conversation around skills. PwC found that while 40pc believed their digital skills had improved during the pandemic, unequal access to career training and opportunities persists.

There were disparities highlighted in terms of upskilling, with 46pc of respondents with postgraduate degrees saying they had been given many opportunities for digital upskilling, compared with 28pc of people with school-leaver qualifications.

In Ireland, 75pc of CEOs said they are concerned about the availability of key skills. However, only one in four said they plan to invest significantly in talent development. On the employee side, 74pc said they view training as a personal responsibility and 80pc said they’re confident about adapting to new technologies in the workplace.

4. Purpose

While three-quarters of the participants said they want to work for a company with purpose or that will make a positive contribution to society, 54pc said they would prioritise income if they were forced to choose between the two.

Respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely than other groups to say they would prioritise income over purpose. Respondents older than 55 were 8pc more likely to prioritise purposeful work and those older than 65 were 22pc more likely.

Half of the Irish CEOs who took part said they are making changes to their organisation’s purpose to better reflect the role it plays in society.

5. Remote work

According to the report, remote working will persist post-lockdown. Of the respondents who can work remotely, 72pc said they prefer a hybrid working model and only 9pc said they want to return to their traditional work environment full-time.

Workers based in cities were more likely to want to work remotely than those living in rural areas.

6. Privacy

According to PwC, respondents were “torn” between the convenience brought by new technology and the implications it could have on their privacy.

At 44pc, almost half said they’d agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their work performance, such as sensors and wearables. Less than one-third (31pc) said they were against the idea.

When it comes to personal data, 41pc said they wouldn’t be willing to give their employer access to things like social media profiles.

What we need to do now for the future of work

Gerard McDonough, people and organisation partner at PwC, said that the concern for skills availability among Irish CEOs was higher than for global CEOs for eight years running.

“However, just a quarter say they plan double-digit investment in leadership and talent development and just 36pc will focus on skills as part of their workforce strategy to be more competitive.

“If current patterns in access to training persist, upskilling will increase social inequality when it should be doing precisely the opposite. Government and business leaders need to work together to intensify efforts to ensure people in the most at-risk industries and groups get the opportunities they need.

“Automation and technological disruption are inevitable, but we can control whether its negative effects are managed or not.”

The company’s director of people and organisation in Ireland, Ciara Fallon, added: “As the world continues to grapple with a global health crisis and economic uncertainty, we’ve seen employees come to demand more from the business community, expecting their employers to make a positive contribution to society.

“Fortunately, focusing on societal impact and maximising profit are not mutually exclusive, and being a purpose-led business can actually help boost your bottom line.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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