Hopes and fears 2021

The views of 32,500 workers

Workers want more digital skills, more inclusivity, and more flexibility

In one of the largest global surveys of workers, people revealed a mostly optimistic story, but one with some concerning undercurrents. Workers reported feeling excited or confident about the future. Most said they believe they can meet the challenges of automation — and they proved it during the pandemic: by learning new digital skills and by quickly adapting to remote work. Yet many people think their job is at risk, and half of all respondents feel they’ve missed out on career opportunities or training due to discrimination.

PwC is committed to highlighting the issues surrounding the digital divide and the societal and economic benefits of greater private-public collaboration on upskilling and reskilling. There’s a lot more to do to create more diverse, inclusive workplaces that allow everyone to give their best.


People are concerned about job security

  • 60% are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk.

  • 48% believe traditional employment won't be around in the future, and that we’ll sell our skills on a short-term basis to those who need them.

  • 56% think few people will have stable, long-term employment in the future; this jumps to 81% in India.

  • 61% feel that their government should act to protect jobs, with that feeling being more acute among 18-34 year-olds (66%) than those over 55 (51%).

  • 39% think it’s likely that their job will be obsolete within five years.


The pandemic has already disrupted whole industries, contributing to people’s anxiety about the future.

As companies accelerate their automation plans and many jobs continue to be remote, employees across every sector will need to acquire new skills that enable them to think and work in different ways. The future isn’t a fixed destination. We need to plan for dynamic rather than static tomorrows.


Workers want to reskill

  • 40% of workers successfully improved their digital skills during the pandemic.

  • 77% are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain.

  • 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. 

  • 80% are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace, with a large majority of people in India (69%) and in South Africa (66%) saying they are very confident, but only 5% in Japan say they are very confident.

  • 46% of people with postgraduate degrees say their employer gives them opportunities to improve their digital skills, but just 28% of people with school-leaver qualifications say the same. Industries like retail or transport, which are most at risk of disruption, score just 25% and 20% respectively; banking scores 42%.

  • Younger people are twice as likely as older people to get opportunities to improve skills, and people in cities are 1.5 times as likely as people in towns.

  • 49% of respondents are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business, a trend most prominent in Saudi Arabia (82%), South Africa (82%), India (79%), and Qatar (79%).


In one of the pandemic’s positive surprises, people who were given the chance proved they could transition quickly to remote work while keeping productivity high. 

Where access exists, workers are keen to reskill as needed, but disparities in access to training remain. Those who most need digital skills are still the least likely to get them and, if this trend continues, we risk widening the digital divide. Leaders need to create more inclusive opportunities to upskill.


"If current patterns in access to training persist, upskilling will increase social inequality when it should be doing precisely the opposite."

Bhushan SethiJoint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC United States

Discrimination at work is holding people back

  • 50% of workers say they’ve faced discrimination at work, which led to them missing out on career advancement or training. 

  • 22% were passed over because of their age — with younger workers just as likely as older people to be affected.

  • 13% report missing out on opportunities as a result of ethnicity.

  • 14% of workers have experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender, with women twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men.

  • 13% report discrimination on the basis of social class or background.


The pandemic illuminated racial inequities and social tensions around the world. It also reversed progress toward gender equality, as many more women than men have left the labour market over the past year. At the same time, many younger workers are not being given opportunities to rise in an organisation. 

There’s a real need to open up genuine, fully inclusive conversations about how to build more diverse and purpose-led workplaces. Companies need to ask tough questions and really consider the answers they’re getting. And not just because it’s the right thing to do; it’s also good for business. A diverse workforce and deliberate inclusion efforts help drive better outcomes—through different perspectives, creative thinking, and open collaboration—that can lead to the broader economic development of our society, which benefits everyone.

People want to work for purpose-driven companies  — but not at any price

  • 75% of respondents say they want to work for an organisation that will make a positive contribution to society. This feeling was especially acute in China (87%), India (90%), and South Africa (90%). 

  • If forced to choose, 54% say they’d choose to maximise income while 46% say they’d choose a job that makes a difference over more money.

  • 57% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 would choose to maximise their income.



A large majority of people want a job with a sense of purpose. This is not just about attracting younger talent; it matters up and down the age scale. But economic realities, of course, have an impact too, so it is important to think about how purpose and economic success work together.


"Focusing on societal impact and maximising profit are not mutually exclusive. Being a purpose-led business can actually help boost your bottom line."

Peter BrownJoint Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practice

Remote work is in demand

  • Only 9% of those who can work remotely want to go back to a traditional commute and work environment full time.

  • 72% of respondents who can work remotely say they prefer a mixture of in-person and remote working.

  • 19% would be happy to not return to an office at all and work entirely remotely.

  • Workers in metropolitan areas (66%) are more likely to work in roles that could allow remote working than those who live in rural areas (44%). 

  • 51% think tech breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next three to five years.

  • 44% of workers would agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their performance at work, including sensors and wearable devices, with 31% against it. 

  • But 41% of respondents say that they are unwilling to give their employer access to their personal data, including social media profiles, with only 35% willing. 


A remarkably low percentage of people who find that they can work remotely want to go back to the office full time. With that in mind, most companies are planning to maintain at least some virtual work or flextime. More than half expect remote working to be a permanent part of their workforce strategy. And as a consequence, they’ll need different kinds of physical space.

As leaders reimagine the offices of tomorrow, we expect the focus to be on increasing space where people can initiate, develop, and strengthen relationships. Where they can experience the culture and brand. And of course, where teams come together to brainstorm, collaborate, and problem solve.


"Remote working is just going to be part of how we do business in the future. With ongoing investments in technology, virtual collaboration will become a seamless part of the employee experience."

Chaitali MukherjeePeople and Organisation, Upskilling and HR Transformation Leader, PwC India

About the survey

In February 2021, PwC commissioned a survey of 32,517 members of the general public. Respondents included workers, business owners, contract workers, students, unemployed people looking for work, and those on furlough or who were temporarily laid off. The survey polled workers in 19 countries: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kuwait. Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UAE, UK, US.

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Bhushan Sethi

Bhushan Sethi

Joint Global Leader, People & Organisation, PwC United States

Tel: +1 (917) 863 9369

Peter Brown

Peter Brown

Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7789 003712

Carol Stubbings

Carol Stubbings

Global Tax and Legal Services Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Mike Davies

Mike Davies

Director, Global Corporate Affairs and Communications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 7803 974136