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Irish CEOs concerned by skills gap but doing little to bridge it, reveals PwC survey

5 Mar 2020

Irish CEOs continue to be more concerned by the skills gap than their global counterparts, but only 12pc have made notable progress on establishing upskilling programmes, according to PwC.

PwC’s annual global CEO survey was launched in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Today (5 March), PwC Ireland has released the results from Irish CEOs to provide a clearer picture of leadership sentiment across the country.

Of the 125 Irish CEOs surveyed in the autumn of 2019, just 16pc offered a favourable outlook for Ireland’s economy this year. This represents a dramatic shift from last year’s survey, where 57pc of CEOs were optimistic about the country’s economic future. In fact, this is the lowest level of confidence in the Irish economy reported in the Irish CEO survey since 2009, when it was just 3pc.

“Ireland is bucking some global economic trends – our economy is performing well, unemployment is at almost record lows and foreign direct investment remains strong. But it is not surprising, given all that is going on globally, that business confidence in Ireland has fallen so dramatically,” said Feargal O’Rourke, PwC Ireland managing partner.

However, O’Rourke noted Irish CEOs’ equal measure of “resilience and realism” at a time of uncertainty. Seeing that 67pc of those surveyed remain confident of their own organisations’ future revenue growth, he remarked: “CEOs have lost little of their belief in the potential of their own businesses to succeed.”

That said, this confidence level is a steep drop from last year’s 84pc and the lowest level seen in the Irish CEO survey since 2013.

‘To retain employees, companies must also do more than go through the motions of upskilling; they need to give their talent the opportunity to do good work’

Despite the lack of broad confidence in the Irish economy, almost all (95pc) of respondents will continue to increase or maintain their investment in Ireland, and nearly half (47pc) plan to increase their headcount in the year ahead.

This comes with its own challenges of overcoming skills shortages, with Irish CEOs having demonstrated more concern over this than their global counterparts for the past seven years running.

More than half (57pc) believe upskilling is the answer, shooting up from 30pc last year. However, only 12pc say they have made “significant progress” in establishing an upskilling programme that develops a mix of soft, technical and digital skills.

“Our survey also suggests that there is scope to increase the effectiveness of upskilling programmes,” said Doone O’Doherty, a partner in PwC Ireland’s people and organisation practice.

“For example, less than a quarter (22pc) of Irish survey respondents reported that their upskilling programmes are ‘very effective’ in reducing the skills gaps and on improving talent acquisition and retention. But to retain employees, companies must also do more than go through the motions of upskilling; they need to give their talent the opportunity to do good work.”

Those surveyed by PwC for the 2020 report lead organisations in Ireland employing more than 160,000 people. Financial services was the chief industry represented, at almost one-third of respondents.

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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