By Leyla Yildirim, chief strategy officer, PwC Channel Islands
I HAVE spent two decades researching and writing about the future of work but the rapid transformation of our workplaces in a post-pandemic world has taken even me by surprise.
Automation and digitisation were already transforming how, what and where we work. Covid-19 has been an amplifier of disruptive forces, accelerating technology adoption as many businesses pivoted to a remote-working model overnight.
In the Channel Islands we have seen knowledge workers, who were usually office-based, adapting well and businesses have been largely resilient to the challenges. But the upheaval and adjustments to work over the past year are just a taste of what is to come.
Will robots take our jobs?
PwC research estimates that approximately 30% of jobs are at risk across the Channel Islands from automation between now and 2035. In Jersey that is over 16,000 jobs and 10,800 in Guernsey.
Many of the impacted jobs will hit financial services where there is an abundance of administrative roles that manage and process information. AI will enhance decision-making while automation will replace the need for manual (human) tasks. Since the pandemic, we have seen organisations invest quickly in digital solutions to keep the wheels turning.
They are seeing the positive benefits technology can bring and this is accelerating decisions about what more technology can do and how this in turn impacts workforce plans. Will robots take our jobs? We see the future as a ‘brains and bots’ partnership, where human skills work closely with AI. It is hard to imagine many of today’s jobs looking the same in ten years.
The need to invest in upskilling
We are optimistic that technology can create as many new jobs as those that will be lost but, without a focused effort to upskill the Guernsey and Jersey workforce now, we will see a future with high demand for digital talent, but a local resource pool that lacks the skills to meet that demand.
In a recent global PwC Hopes and Fears survey of over 30,000 members of the public, 60% said they were worried that automation would put their jobs at risk, and 39% thought their current job would be obsolete within five years. This tallies with our local study which indicated the bulk of job losses in the Channel Islands would occur between 2025 and 2030.
Government has a key role to play to encourage upskilling island-wide for all citizens. Our research showed the cost of people losing their jobs, having to retrain before reentering the workforce would be six times higher than the cost of upskilling them now while they are still in a job.
Organisations should be encouraged by the fact that workers recognise the need to upskill and are willing to invest their own time to do so. The Hopes and Fears report indicated that 77% were ready to learn new skills, or completely retrain, and 80% were confident they could adapt to new technology in the workplace.
Avoiding the digital divide
Many of the sectors which have been badly affected by the pandemic are impacting people in lower-paid jobs. Some of these jobs may not come back in the same numbers as before. If these workers are not upskilled, they risk being left behind and create a growing digital divide.
Future demand will be for those with strong technical skills – such as data analysts, engineers and coding skills – but there will also be an equal demand for soft or ‘human’ skills like problem-solving, creativity and agility which go hand in hand with digital change.
We cannot predict the technology we will all be using in ten years but we can build the right agile mindsets that understand and are comfortable with emerging technology, no matter what form it may take.
Inclusive workplaces with purpose
The pandemic has proved that flexible, remote working can be successful and, in some cases, can even improve productivity. The trend looks here to stay, with 72% of workers in our global survey preferring a hybrid model of remote and office working in future.
Greater flexibility in how we work could be a gamechanger for gender equality as many women struggle to combine caring responsibilities with employment. Our latest Women in Work Index (based on 2019 data) shows both Guernsey and Jersey have fallen downwards in the Index which ranks female participation in employment across OECD countries, with Guernsey falling from 14 to 19 between 2017 and 2019, and Jersey falling from 20 to 24.
It is time for local firms to recognise that diversity and inclusion are powerful levers which can help us to win the race for talent and drive economic success and recovery. And, finally, workers want more from work than just a way to earn money. In our Hopes and Fears survey, 76% said they wanted to work for an organisation that made a positive contribution to society. And, perhaps most illuminating, when asked to choose between ‘maximising income’ or ‘making a difference’, the ratio of responses was 54% to 46%.
The future is not a place we travel to, it is one which we create. The pandemic has forced us to make workplace changes much faster than planned. With a strong focus on continued tech adoption, maximising the potential of the local talent pool and rapidly upskilling the workforce, the Channel Islands could gain a competitive edge that could secure our future prosperity. A shared vision and close collaboration between government, business and education will be key to achieving this vision, and the time to act is now.