UK workers face ‘wake-up’ call on skills

Lack of in-work learning is a risk for business and careers.

A quarter (26%) of the UK workforce say they have not participated in any in-work learning over the past 12 months, with the inherent risk to both their own careers and the productivity of their businesses. An additional 22% take part in learning a few times a year.

There is also considerable geographical variation in learning participation. In London, 9% of workers had not been involved in learning over the past year, while in the West Midlands region the figure was 42%.  

These are findings from a survey of 2,000 workers carried out in May by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, which is an association of members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). While there are several factors driving productivity, the survey results come at a time when UK productivity lags 16.3% behind the average of the rest of the G7, according to the UK's Office for National Statistics' latest figures, for 2016. Most recently, the UK's output per hour was down 0.4% in the first three months of 2018 compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. Productivity was up 0.9% compared with a year ago but well below the nearly 2% pre-2008 average.

In June, Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, said the UK's slowdown in productivity "appears to have been larger than in almost any other country" and was a "lost decade and counting".

With more than a third (37%) of UK workers saying they do not believe they need to enhance their skills, there is a considerable complacency challenge. "Complacency will be the difference between the UK's workforce experiencing a digital shock or a digital revolution," said Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, chief executive, management accounting, at the Association. "As the UK debates the best path for Brexit, businesses and employees need to wake up to career complacency and help to solve the productivity problem."

This complacency can in part be attributed to a lack of understanding about the impact of automation and digitisation. In a separate Association survey of SME business leaders, 62% said sections of their operations could be automated in the next five years. However, only 38% of workers surveyed think that any portion of their role will be automated, and 26% of workers have not considered the effect of automation on their roles.

Human skills such as critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration are increasingly important for management accountants as they embrace the opportunities that new technology offers. However, workers prefer to learn a new professional skill specific to their role rather than learning digital or human skills, the Association's survey showed.

For more data from the survey, see the Association's Mind the UK Skills Gap campaign infographic.

— Oliver Rowe ( is external affairs content manager for FM magazine.