8 million UK workers at risk of career complacency

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants research reveals worrying gap in attitudes to future skills between workers and their employers.

  • A quarter (26%) of the UK workforce admits to not participating in any in-work learning in the last 12 months.
  • Research comes as automation and artificial intelligence are making sweeping changes to the world of work.
  • UK productivity could be further affected if workers drop out of their careers because they lack the right skills.

LONDON – A quarter of UK workers are failing to prioritise professional learning and development, putting them at risk of falling behind as the accelerating pace of technological change demands new skills to keep up, according to a new survey by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (The Association).

In the survey, 26 percent of workers admitted that they had not participated in any in-work learning in the last 12 months. The research highlights a worrying level of complacency among the UK’s workforce, which could have long-term consequences for individuals’ careers and the businesses they work in.

Added to that, over a third (37%) said they do not believe they need to improve their skills, emphasising the challenge the UK faces in changing attitudes to in-work learning and improving productivity. This important insight is more than a human resources issue, highlighting to management accountants non-financial risks to growing a business. It comes as the UK continues to lag behind other major economies, with labour productivity around 16.3% below the average for the other G7 economies in 2016[1].

This complacency stems, at least in part, from a lack of understanding about the impact of automation and digitalisation on jobs and skills. In a separate survey of business leaders, 62% said sections of their operations could be automated in the next five years. But only 38% of workers surveyed think that any portion of their role will be automated and 26% of workers have not even considered the impact of automation on their roles.

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting – at the Association said:

“Complacency will be the difference between the UK’s workforce experiencing a digital shock or a digital revolution. 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.

“The UK is a service sector economy and with 80% of the labour force engaged in the sector, we need to be able to adapt to a changing economy. Addressing the skills gap is critical for business and finance leaders as they seek to create value and drive innovation. I’m confident, however, that this problem can be overcome if we can recognise and address the inconsistencies between what people expect to happen in the world of work and what they need to do about it”.

The Association represents two of the world’s most prestigious accounting bodies, AICPA and CIMA, which is training the next generation of Management Accountants to provide foresight to business leaders that will deliver growth, create value and manage risk.  

The Association, through research with academics, employers and practitioners, is already seeing the finance community make wholesale changes in the way people think and work because of technology. In response to this, it is supporting people’s learning and continued professional development by embracing technology and expanding offerings in fields such as emotional intelligence and digital analytics, and through new certificate programmes in areas such as cyber security and block chain.

The Association’s Mind the Skills Gap survey precedes a larger global study into the changing role of Finance, which is currently looking at the finance function of companies across 14 countries, 5,000 Association members and 150+ companies, including large corporates. This research, to be published in the autumn, will be used to enhance the employability of finance professionals by helping them to acquire and deploy skills, competencies and mind-sets that are being demanded by employers.

For a more detailed overview of the Association's research results, take a look at this blog by Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting – at the Association and the Mind the UK Skills Gap infographic.


1. This 8 million figure is extrapolated from 2,008 UK workers aged 18+ onto the 32.34 million people in-work in the UK according to ONS May 2018 – both sample populations are consistent with one another. The population size: 32,344,000 (ONS UK workforce) was analysed against the sample size for statistical significance. The confidence level in the data is 95%, the margin of error is 2.79%.

2. Figures taken from the ONS UK Productivity Statistical release April 2018.