Mind the skills gap: UK workers apathetic about learning new skills, according to CIMA research – despite threat to job security from automation

11 November 2019

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Research published today shows UK workers remain apathetic toward learning new skills, despite automation & new technologies putting job security at risk. According to this year’s ‘Mind the Skills Gap’ research, 37% of British workers (unchanged from 2018) said they don’t feel the need to learn new skills.

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), backed by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, carried out the study. Two surveys were carried out by Opinium on behalf of the Association. Fieldwork took place online between 30th July 2019 and 31st July 2019 to a nationally representative sample of 2,008 UK workers aged 18 or older. A further survey took place online between 31st July 2019 and 5th August 2019 to a sample of 509 senior decision-makers working at SMEs.

Nearly half of workers (49%) said they believe any portion of their role could be automated in the future, up from 38% in 2018. The research also indicated a growing appreciation of the need to integrate with technology and be agile, with 26% of workers saying they think working seamlessly with new automated processes, technologies and robots will be one of the most important skills in the next five years, compared to 16% in 2018.

However, the number of workers wanting to learn digital skills fell in 2018 from 27% to 23% in 2019. Instead, the percentage of workers interested in learning soft skills, such as critical thinking, communications and problem-solving, rose from 23% in 2018 to 29% this year.

Contradicting the growing role of technology in the world of work, 55% of SME decision-makers said sections of their operations were less likely to be affected in the next five years, a decrease from 62% in 2018.

Andrew Harding FCMA CGMA, Chief Executive — Management Accounting, commented: “This is the second year we’ve run this research and it continues to show there’s an apathy towards learning new skills and, more worryingly, a lack of desire to learn digital skills. The UK’s goal to be a leading digital economy cannot be met if the capabilities of its workforce aren’t up to scratch. Attitudes to learning and reskilling need to change — employees, employers and policy-makers need to embrace the philosophy of learning, un-learning and re-learning to support growth. A positive approach here will have a positive impact on UK productivity and economic growth.” 

Findings from the likes of the World Bank’s ‘The World Development Report’ support the ‘Mind the Skills Gap’ research.  It highlighted that the ‘rise of the digital platform firm means that technological effects reach more people faster than ever before. Technology is changing the skills that employers seek. Workers need to be better at complex problem-solving, teamwork and adaptability’ and PwC’s international analysis named: ‘Will robots really steal our jobs?’ This highlighted in its key findings that: “less well-educated workers could be particularly exposed to automation, emphasising the importance of increased investment in lifelong learning and retraining.


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