Future World of Work

Staff in UK businesses do not feel prepared for the future world of work, despite the majority of employers offering training to upskill workers preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A recent Barclays/YouGov survey of both employers and their staff set out to find out how prepared people feel they are for the future digital world of work and found that just 13% of staff felt ‘very prepared’.

The frontier between humans and technology in the workplace is arguably shifting as rapidly as it ever has since the start of the first industrial revolution. In about 60% of current occupations, at least 1/3 of the expected activities could be automated moving forward, implying substantial workplace transformation and change for all workers1.

Despite this, workers were less worried than might have otherwise been feared. Just 13% of those workers we surveyed expressed concern about their job being lost to automation or digitisation within the next five years.

What are the four industrial revolutions

Percentage of employees who feel worried about their current job being lost to automation or digitisation at some point in the near future

Graph 1: % of employees who feel worried about their current job being lost to automation/digitisation at some point in the near future (i.e. in the next 5 years)

The UK workforce is largely confident that they can update their skills if automation affects their jobs; and our research suggests employers are doing their bit, but that staff may not be aware. 66% of employers said they are offering some form of digital training initiative to prepare their employees for the digital world of work, but over half (53%) of staff said that they had not been offered any form of digital skills training.

Clearly, there are a large proportion of the UK workforce who are not aware that their employer offers digital training, and there is an opportunity for businesses to increase the awareness of their schemes.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of staff are even interested in giving up their spare time to learn new digital skills.

This wasn’t confined to just younger members of staff, interest in learning new digital skills was significant in all age categories we surveyed, including those in the 55+ category. 79% of staff stated they would be interested in improving their digital skills through their current employer through work-based education.

Percentage of employees that are interested in learning new digital skills at work or in their free time

Graph 2: % of employees that are interested in learning new digital skills at work or in their free time

Cornell University define digital literacy as: the ability to find, evaluate, utilise, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.

What are the basic digital skills required in the workplace?

Currently, to be digitally literate in the workplace, the following competencies are examples of those that employees require:

  • Tools and techniques: Employees need to be confident in using the equipment and programs their employer provides them with. Employees should also know what to do when their tools are not working. 
  • Navigation: Employees need to be able to find information online and to know how to verify that the information that they are seeing is genuine.
  • Communication: Around half of work time is spent managing emails. Employees should know standards for email length and protocols for CC’ing people in. Customer facing staff should also be trained on using social media safely. 
  • Security and regulations: Employees must understand password protection and must be able to identify suspect emails. Additionally, employees should understand protocols on sharing information outside the organisation. 

Why employers need to act

The UK Department of Education recently reported that 11.3 million people in the UK lack basic digital skills, and 5.4 million of these people are working adults2. Yet by 2023, almost every role in the UK will require an element of digital skills3.

Evidently, a large number of working adults, with their current level of digital competency, might struggle in their roles in just a few years’ time. Focus needs to shift towards improving employees’ digital skills.

Just 8% of employers surveyed said that their employees’ digital skills are their main priority*. If we want to avoid leaving a significant part of our UK workforce behind as we move towards a digital world of work, improving digital skills needs to be at the top of businesses agendas. Businesses can take a variety of beneficial initial steps, from communicating with employees to identify skills gaps, to providing in-house or access to online courses.

Whilst it is currently difficult to predict the precise skills that employees will need in the future, it is certain that they will need to be digitally literate and have basic digital skills.

What is Barclays doing? 

Intrapreneurship 101: The quickest way to drive innovation in your own business could be ‘intrapreneurship’. By turning your existing employees into internal entrepreneurs, emboldened to take measured risks, you might be able to find a completely new path for your company. Find out more about how our Eagle Labs can support you to develop an intrapreneurship programme at https://labs.uk.barclays/intrapreneurship.

Connect with work: Our unique employability programme is helping to prepare individuals in the UK for the world of work. It aims to help individuals aged 16+ with the ability and desire to enter the workplace, but who face barriers in doing so. After working with recruiting corporates and identifying their needs, we then then provide 1-6 week skills training for the individuals seeking employment. Find out more at: https://home.barclays/citizenship/access-to-employment/connect-with-work/

Unreasonable Impact: This innovative partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group is focused on creating the jobs of tomorrow. It helps to scale up high-growth companies that are addressing key global challenges, whilst aiming to generate the creation of thousands of new jobs. For example, in supporting start-up Growing Underground, Unreasonable Impact is upskilling people and training them to become urban farmers, a job of the future. Find out more at: http://unreasonableimpact.com/

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1004 employees and 1002 employers from SMEs and large businesses in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st January – 30th January 2019. The survey was carried out online. *The other options given to employers: employee engagement (31%), employee soft skills (10%), flexible working for employees (7%) and employee productivity (33%).


1Mckinsey Global Institute report, November 2017, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages^

2 ‘Essential digital skills framework’, Department of Education, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/essential-digital-skills-framework/essential-digital-skills-framework^

3 ‘Essential digital skills framework’, Department of Education, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/essential-digital-skills-framework/essential-digital-skills-framework^