Pandemic accelerates digital upskilling, but key groups still miss out

PwC Hopes and Fears 2021 survey

  • One in four workers in Europe believe their job will be obsolete within 5 years;
  • While 26% say their digital skills improved during the lockdown, data shows unequal access to career and training opportunities, a trend that is also prevalent globally;
  • 38% is missing out on career opportunities due to bias;
  • Only 1 in 10 want to go back to a traditional work environment full time;
  • People are taking their future into their own hands: ​ 73% of workers are 'ready to learn new skills or completely re-train' and 69% see training as a matter of personal responsibility.


Thursday 25 March 2021 – One of the largest global surveys of workers,PwC’s Hopes and Fears 2021, polled 32,500 workers in 19 countries - including 12,003 respondents from European countries - and confirms the flexibility global workforces have shown during the pandemic, by learning new digital skills and by quickly adapting to remote work. Looking at the future, European workers are overall confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace. At the same time, nearly 6 out of 10 workers believe the government should take action to protect jobs from automation.

Upskilling for the post-COVID world

PwC’s 2021 hopes and fears survey indicates how the pandemic may have accelerated a number of workforce trends: 57% of workers in the European region are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk; and 26% think it is likely that their job will be obsolete within 5 years.


Base: 12,003 respondents (Europe)

However, this is not a counsel of despair, as one in four workers in Europe say they have improved their digital skills through the prolonged period of lockdown. Importantly, a majority of Europeans claim they'll continue to embrace training and skill development in the future: 73% of workers are 'ready to learn new skills or completely re-train' and 69% see training as a matter of personal responsibility. As a result, 77% is confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace.

Femke Aerts, Senior Manager at PwC Belgium: “The speed, scope and impact of technological change is challenging businesses, and society at large. Not everyone has to learn to code, but we should know how to work with and benefit from these new technologies. The upskilling challenge involves training people how to think, act and thrive in a digital world that is sustainable over time and that can rebuild trust in society.”

Interesting work ​

Three-quarters of workers in Europe (72%) say they want to work for an organisation that will make a ‘positive contribution to society.’ However, 55% of those polled in the Europe region said job security is more important than to have autonomy at work (45%). Another important impediment appears to be the access to training and upskilling opportunities. 38% of workers in Europe say they’ve faced discrimination at work which led to them missing out on career advancement or training, this is however lower than the global average (50%). 18% of workers in Europe report missing out on opportunities as a result of age and 11% of workers have experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender.

“Now that the world continues to grapple with a global health crisis and economic uncertainty, workers come to demand more from the business community, expecting their employers to make a positive contribution to society. Many workers in Belgium, too, emphasize a job with a sense of purpose. The way work is designed has an important impact on our engagement and well-being, ​ ​ this was also confirmed in PwC Belgium’s recent Workforce Preference Study. However, economic realities have an impact too and the feeling of economic insecurity is limiting people’s ability to fully pursue purpose driven careers. It is therefore important to think about how purpose and economic success work together.

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. 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 get the opportunities they need,” comments Femke Aerts.

Working remotely moving forward, but torn on privacy and technology

The survey concludes that remote working will persist post-lockdown. In Europe, 77% say they prefer a mixture of in-person and remote working, with only 11% stating they’d like to go back to their traditional work environment full-time. This is particularly true of professionals, office workers, business owners and the self-employed, all of whom are able to perform their jobs remotely using technology. However, home working does not need to be limited to professional jobs. Globally, 43% of manual workers and 45% of semi-skilled workers say there are many elements of their job that they are able to do remotely.

With remote working comes a broader use of technological tools. However, just 34% of workers in Europe would agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their performance at work including sensors and wearable devices, with 40% against. Many would not go as far as allowing their employers access to their personal data. 47% said that they were unwilling to give their employer access to their personal data including social media profiles, with only 28% willing.

As leaders reimagine the offices of tomorrow, we expect the focus to be on a workplace where people can strengthen relationships and experience the culture. The feeling of “belonging“ plays a crucial role in our engagement. And of course, where teams come together to brainstorm, collaborate, and problem solve. Remote working is going to be part of how we do business in the future. Virtual collaboration will become a seamless part of the employee experience,” concludes Femke Aerts.


About PwC’s Hopes and Fears 2021 survey

Between 26 January, 2021 and 8 February, 2021, PwC commissioned a survey of 32,517 members of the general public, including 12,003 from Europe (France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, UK). 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, and the US.


Explore the findings of PwC’s Hopes and Fears 2021 survey.



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