The future of work in the Channel Islands

Having spent two decades researching and writing about the future of work, the transformation of our workplaces in a post-pandemic world has taken even me by surprise, says Leyla Yildirim, chief strategy officer, PwC Channel Islands

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 last year are just a taste of what’s 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’s over 16,000 jobs and 10,800 in Guernsey. Many of the impacted jobs will be in financial services, where there is an abundance of administrative roles that manage and process information. Artificial intelligence 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. So, will robots take our jobs? We see the future as a ‘brains and bots’ partnership, where human skills work closely with AI. It’s hard to imagine many of today’s jobs looking the same in 10 years.

PwC logo (29598318)

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 general public, 60% said they were worried that automation would put their jobs at risk, and 39% think their own current job will 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 and having to retrain before re-entering 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 involved 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 creating a growing digital divide. Future demand will be for those with strong technical skills, 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 10 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 game-changer 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’s time for local firms to recognise that diversity and inclusion are powerful levers which can help us 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. 76% in our Hopes and Fears survey 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’ vs ‘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.

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