by Carol Stubbings and Peter Brown*
Young people have had a lot to deal with over the past few years, from the pandemic to climate change, rising inequality to geopolitical tension. As they enter the world of work, they could be forgiven for feeling that the dice are loaded against them. And yet the evidence of our most recent Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey - of nearly 54,000 workers in 46 countries and territories - shows that younger generations are broadly optimistic, particularly in relation to skills and the opportunity to learn new ones.
The question for business, government and civil society is how we can ensure that confidence is not misplaced and that the opportunity to acquire skills is equitable.
It starts with the relationship between workers and their employers.
Gen Z (18-26-year-olds in our survey) are likely to believe that their employer will help them acquire the skills they need for the future. For example, over 3 in 5 Gen Z workers believe their employer will allow them to develop critical thinking, collaboration and analytical skills (65%, 63% and 61%, respectively) – around 10 points higher than the equivalent scores for Baby Boomers (59-77-year-olds in our survey). They are also more likely than older generations to say that employers are currently giving them a chance to exercise the new skills they learn.
The picture is a little more complex regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI), a technology that World Economic Forum research anticipates will be adopted by 75% of companies. Some 50% of organizations surveyed expect it to create job growth, while 25% expect it to create job losses.
With all the uncertainty that this scale of change brings, it would be reasonable for young people leaving school to feel more worried than anyone else. And they are: our survey found that 17% of Gen Z workers are concerned that AI will replace their role in the next five years, compared to just 8% of Baby Boomers. However, this heightened concern sits alongside some optimism. A quarter of Gen Z expect AI to enable them to develop new skills or create new job opportunities. Young people know that change is coming and are ready for it.
While the overall picture is of a generation that understands the need to learn and is ambitious about upskilling itself, that masks significant differences between Gen Z. There is a big divide between those who already have specialist skills and those who do not. While 71% of those whose jobs require specialist training/qualifications say they actively seek opportunities to acquire new skills, the number is just 45% for those whose jobs do not require specialist training.
Those with specialist training are more than three times more likely to believe the skills they need to do their job will change significantly in the coming five years (52% vs 14%). These findings suggest the risk of an increasing gap between the outlook and prospects for workers who have specialist skills and those who do not. And in an environment where organizations have to reinvent themselves to remain viable (according to PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, nearly 40% of CEOs say that their organization will not be economically viable in 10 years without significant change), we need all of the workforce to be equipped and empowered to drive this change.
It is now up to businesses, governments, policymakers and educators to step up and harness younger workers’ enthusiasm, engage those that are not yet able to focus on their own skills journey and put in place the measures needed to enable the next generation to embrace the future of work fully.
One way they can do this is by promoting a ’skills-first’ agenda, which turns the traditional recruitment and retention model on its head by focusing on a person’s skills and competencies rather than their qualifications or job history. Our survey found both Gen Z and Millennials (27-42 years old in our survey) are significantly more likely than older generations to say that employers focus too much on their job history and not enough on their skills. Skills-first would help this group while also unlocking talent across society. A third or more of every generation, from Baby Boomers down, say they have skills that employers would not know about based purely on qualifications and job history. That is a large pool of untapped talent.
We live in rapidly changing times, with technology and AI transforming the shape of the workplace as we know it. Businesses, governments and organizations that help equip young people with the skills they need to succeed will not only help those individuals, they will also reap benefits for themselves and, perhaps most importantly, deliver lasting benefits to our wider society too. The world is lucky to have a younger generation that remains optimistic about its future. We must collectively deliver on the hope that drives that optimism.
*Global Tax and Legal Services Leader, PwC and Global People & Organization Leader, PwC, UK
**first published in: Weforum.org