tube train moving quickly through a station

The Future of Work: Two thirds of our workforce can’t keep pace

A third of all workers in the UK are aged 50 or over, a percentage which is steadily growing year on year. With guaranteed retirement at age 60 very much a notion of the past, individuals are often required to remain within the labour market, or re-enter, much later in life.

But with the skills required to cope with the future of work constantly evolving, what does the current landscape look like and how can organisations ensure that their entire workforce is fit for purpose?

Can you keep up?

The Digital Revolution. It’s the veritable grim reaper that has been knocking on the door of the traditional workplace for quite some time. In the modern age, businesses face a corporate ‘survival of the fittest’; keep pace and navigate the challenges to thrive in the face of uncertainty or fail to adapt and risk the likelihood of sinking into obscurity.

But what are the pillars of survival? Adaptability. Resilience. Agility. Transferable skills. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, it’s skills and ‘talentism’ that are deemed the likely currency of the future; ‘capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate — and therefore by human talents — as the most important factors of production. And so why is it, in a world where the value of skills is so high, that two thirds of hiring managers feel that their workforce doesn’t have the skills to support the business needs over the next three to five years?

Economic imperative

It seems that once again, keeping up with the sheer pace of technological change is the albatross around many organisational necks. We shared an infographic recently, exploring the economic imperative for organisations to invest in a culture of lifelong learning. But this imperative becomes even more apparent when you take into account the ever-widening skills gap, alongside the rapidly decreasing longevity of skills. The pace of change has led to the average ‘half-life’ of a skill becoming just five years. This means that every five years some key skills are around half as valuable as they were before – and perhaps even more terrifying, much of what you learnt 10 years ago is now almost obsolete!

Hand holding a floating green plant

This change makes it even more vital for organisations to offer opportunities for individuals, at all stages of their career, to regularly assess and refresh their skill sets. Merely relying on the skills of yester, without a thought to developing the skills needed for the future of work, puts organisations far more at risk.

Failing to prepare or preparing to fail?

So, how well are businesses doing with tackling this problem? Well, a recent survey by the Learning and Work Institute highlights some serious gaps. Within the UK, just one third of adults’ state they have participated in learning during the last three years – the lowest proportion in over two decades. The issue becomes starker when you look at those in their mid-life: just 26% of 55-64 year olds have undertaken any learning activity – compared to 65% of 20-24 year olds.

Making it clear that those who have been present in the labour market for many years, are either not being offered or not engaging with opportunities to undertake the learning and development that will keep their skills fresh and relevant. Effectively indicating that at least two thirds of our current workforce is ill-prepared for the future of work and are currently relying on skills and knowledge that could be considered irrelevant – or at the very least, outdated – for their current challenges.

Taking on the challenge

So, there is a mountain to climb. Businesses are constantly under threat, and to survive will need a workforce that can adapt, rapidly acquire new skills and innovate. But with existing capability-building programmes often falling short, what can organisations do to fill the gaps and facilitate a journey of continuous learning?

Well, taking the step to identify and analyse your own organisational skill gaps is a great place to start. In this sense, ignorance is not bliss; you need to know the gaps to overcome them.

By focusing on the immediate needs, as well as thinking forward (at least into the next five years), you will be able to highlight key focus areas and then put the infrastructure in place to tackle them. Utilising technologies such as skills diagnostics and self-assessment tools puts the worker at the centre of the process, whilst also capturing key data insights to feed into skills mapping.

code on a computer screen detailing skills

Saffron has recently explored this capability within our employability platform Create Your Own Future – offering individuals the chance to explore their existing skill sets, highlight gaps, action their own future development and directly access training or support. Incorporating this template within your learning strategy can create a fantastic springboard for continuous learning.

The key is to simultaneously empower your workforce to take ownership over their own skill gaps, whilst also building confidence as to the value of their existing transferable skills. But also by developing an integral learning culture, underpinned by an effective skills strategy, you allow employees to understand the value of continual learning and cultivate engagement.


The workforce of the future is diverse and so are the skills needed to survive within it. With the percentage of workers in their ‘mid-life’ continuing to grow, organisations miss an opportunity if they discount the value that these workers offer.

man walking across a tightrope

But, as always, balance is essential. Value employees existing knowledge and experience but couple that with a learning strategy that is able to efficiently tackle their skill gaps.

This organisational melting pot of ideas, experience, continual learning and growth is what drives the business forward. A workforce that can continually adapt and keep up with the future of work is the bed-rock of the dynamic organisation of the future.

Keen to take that first step and identify where your organisation’s skill gaps are? Get in touch and we can help you tackle them!