London, June 12 2019 image via ING Media

I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.

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UK: The Human Cost Of Opportunity Denied By Gender, Age And Education

UK: The Human Cost Of Opportunity Denied By Gender, Age And Education

Workers in the United Kingdom are given the fewest opportunities by their employers to ‘upskill’, and the disparities in opportunity are evident by gender, education and age, according to a global survey just out by PwC. It suggests the implications are “profound” with swathes of people at risk of being left behind, exacerbating social and economic inequalities.

Over half (54%) of men surveyed say their employer is giving them a chance to learn new skills, as opposed to 45% of women. Over half of women (55%) say they are offered no opportunities at all.

The research also suggests higher education means more opportunity - 56% of university graduates are offered upskilling opportunities, as opposed to 41% of those educated to school leaver levels. Older generations are at risk of losing out when it comes to opportunities being offered, and 58% of UK adults fear that automation is putting jobs at risk.

By contrast, global markets best at adopting upskiling are the ones that feel most well equipped to use new technologies entering the workplace - India (91%), South Africa (80%) and China (78%), according to the survey.

PwC analysis elsewhere has suggested that 30% of jobs could be impacted by automation by the mid-2030s. Its annual survey shows that the availability of skills is a top concern for 79% of CEOs. But action on this challenge as a priority has been slow to come in many UK businesses, which is a little surprising.

“Organisations need to seize on people’s appetite to learn new skills. Too often assumptions are made about the type of worker who should be upskilled, so the opportunities are not evenly spread. The Government’s National Retraining Scheme is a positive step forward - there’s a huge amount to be done” said Carol Stubbings, Global Head of People and Organisation at PwC.

This latest survey may not seem that significant, as we have been talking about the need for new skills and digital transformation for quite some time. I covered the subject repeatedly in writing on Forbes as well as on Board Talk, even looking in 2015 at whether we needed a digital quotient to better measure good corporate governance.

Sitting in the UK today in 2019 more than three years after the EU referendum, it feels more that we need a better humanity quotient to measure our businesses, and how we run them - and it needs to be a lot more inclusive. Since the Brexit vote, the country has become even more polarised, and our politics appear to have strengthened the barriers of division. If these are then reinforced within business in terms of denied opportunity, we are on a losing track on so many levels - engagement, productivity, trust.

Personal observation suggests that among a frustrated electorate and a failing economy, a lack of interest in learning about opposing views and ideas has become more entrenched while a desire for individual economic self-protection continues to look for an enemy to blame for the state of the nation.

Inequality spawns mistrust, and a daily struggle with creaking infrastructure adds to a grim sense of stagnation for those who spend more hours trying to get to a job and home again than they spend enjoying the fruits of their labour. The absence of empathy for those in different circumstances risks fueling inequality further. We are caught in a vicious circle, certainly while we focus on only one problem - Brexit.

It’s a good time to look at ideas that could help us move forward with a longer-term horizon, and our approach to corporate governance might be one of them. Ideas around business, workers and inclusion were put forward by the opposition Labour party recently, and disappointingly covered by the Financial Times, a strong promoter in the past of ‘inclusive capitalism’ with this leading headline.

A letter to the editor, headlined from its content ‘The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas ‘- from Danny Blanchflower and signed by an impressive array of over 180 economists, was the gratifying response.

Now is the time to think about bold ideas, if only because it is time to acknowledge that what is familiar is simply not working.

On corporate governance and codes based on ‘principles’ and ‘comply or explain’, too, perhaps it is time for a rethink. Penalty-based regulation doesn’t seem to have worked very well since the last financial crisis either in changing behaviour, particularly in the financial services sector. But that’s a sector which understands incentives - and more on that soon.

Image credit: Tom Parsons on Unsplash

Do We Have Groupthink In The UK When It Comes To Diversity ?

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