Enabling a reinvention ready global workforce

By Pete Brown, Global People & Organisation Leader, PwC UK and Bhushan Sethi, Strategy&, Principal, PwC US

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 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 5 years.

Many say they will need to acquire new skills, 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.

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 the 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. 

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 CV 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. 

This piece is based on an article that originally appeared on the World Economic Forum Agenda blog.

Contact us

Peter Brown

Peter Brown

Global Workforce Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: (+44) 7789 003712

Bhushan Sethi

Bhushan Sethi

Strategy&, Principal, PwC US

Tel: +1 (646) 471 2377

Follow us