PWC survey reveals skills gap concerns

UK business leaders turn to the government to solve skills and talent shortage

PWC survey reveals skills gap concerns

With technology advancing at a rate of knots, the incentive on the UK’s workforce to ‘skill up’ has never been stronger. It is somewhat worrying then – yet probably not all that surprising – that a fair whack of the UK’s business leaders are more concerned about an availability of key skills than any of their Western European counterparts.

In its 16th Global CEO Survey, entitled The talent challenge: A time for extraordinary leadership, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) reveals that out of over 1,300 CEOs from our fair shores, two thirds (65%) believe a lack of key skills is hampering their prospects for growth. And where are these executives looking for help when it comes to having a skilled workforce in place? You guessed it – the government.  With four out of five CEOs saying that creating and fostering a skilled workforce should be a government priority for British businesses, three out of four said it should be the government’s highest priority for the coming year. 

Nevertheless, this is by no means to suggest that our business leaders have any less faith in their employees – quite the opposite. Indeed, as PWC asserts in its report, “UK CEOs portray themselves as custodians of a reliable pipeline of future leaders, with 84% claiming to have an active succession planning programme in place. And nine out of ten say their strategic decision-making processes involve managers below board-level, the highest proportion of any major economy, bar the US.”

Moreover, and apparently in contradiction with what bosses are pursuing from the government in the immediate term, only one third of UK CEOs have identified filling talent gaps as a major priority for the year ahead. On the contrary, it is seen as more of a longer-term goal, with 70% of respondents saying they plan to increase investment in their workforce over the next three years. That said, 83% of respondents admitted to seeing a need to change their talent management strategies in the next year, and have identified the government as the solution to their problems.

Further findings reveal that more UK businesses are intending to add to their headcount (45%), as opposed to making cuts (35%). The remaining respondents (17%) expect their headcount to remain relatively static. In terms of industry focus, the research reveals that the most chronic shortage of skilled employees was reported in mining, energy, and engineering and construction companies. 

Whilst we therefore have little reason to doubt companies’ commitment to people development, there seems to be confusion, or merely a lack of proper guidance, over how best to inject that little bit of talent into the workforce vein, as it were.  PWC also suggests that the slow rate of talent development among UK organisations could be down to the fact that “they oversee fewer dedicated executive development programmes than the global average, and are much less likely to actively encourage future leaders’ global mobility and international experience.” It continues: “These findings may be a reflection of the worrying tendency for some UK companies to take a short-term view and stay in their comfort zone, or look to government to drive talent strategies. Skills and talent are the lifeblood of the UK’s economic future – and smarter, more forward-looking companies will invest in them.”

Laura Hinton, human resources consulting partner at PwC, added: “The most successful companies will combine recruitment with developing the people they already have. Those with a balanced approach to growing their own talent and buying in key skills are most likely to succeed.” 

Whatever way you look at it, there is definitely no one-size-fits-all solution here, but the gauntlet does seem to have very much been thrown down when it comes to talent development. One thing is for sure though – our entrepreneurs will be tackling the challenge head on.  

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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