A recent study by KPMG UK reveals a significant shift in how UK workers are approaching professional development and office skills.

With 61% of all workers expressing a desire for training in generative AI, and over half of 18-24 year-olds already utilising AI to acquire new workplace skills, it is clear that the landscape of skill acquisition is evolving rapidly.

The survey, which included 2,000 UK desk-based workers from various sectors, highlighted a considerable reliance on social media and online platforms for learning new skills. Most workers (62%) have turned to these platforms, with 20% doing so regularly, suggesting a need for employers to develop more interactive and accessible in-house learning resources.

Challenges in Current Workplace Learning

Despite the rise in flexible working practices, driven in part by the pandemic, many employees find existing training options inadequate. The survey found that 54% of employees believe their organisations’ flexible work policies do not meet their needs, and 37% reported that their organisations lack a clear strategy for flexible working. This has led many workers to take control of their own training, often turning to social learning platforms and generative AI.

Chris Eldridge, CEO of Robert Walters UK, commented on the findings: “Chrono-working offers significant benefits in helping professionals achieve a work-life balance they are happy with. However, it’s not a universal solution. Companies with strict core hours or extensive stakeholder interactions may face challenges in implementing this practice.”

Generational Preferences and Learning Motivations

The survey also revealed generational differences in learning preferences. While 42% of UK professionals believe that working according to their natural sleeping patterns would improve their mental health, preferences for learning methods vary significantly across age groups. For example, 56% of 18-24 year-olds and a third of 25-34 year-olds have already used generative AI for skill development, compared to only 15% of those aged 55-64.

Furthermore, the demand for soft skills training is particularly high among younger workers. Two-thirds of 18-34 year-olds expressed a desire for more training in communication and leadership skills. This highlights a critical need for organisations to address these gaps to better prepare their workforce for future challenges.

Employers Adopting New Learning Tools

Successful employers are incorporating social learning platforms and generative AI into their training programmes to meet the growing demand for interactive and accessible learning. Platforms like Microsoft Viva Engage, SAP Workplace, Cornerstone, and Degreed are becoming increasingly popular for delivering training resources.

Alex Ball, Director of Learning Services at KPMG UK, noted: “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen significant transformations in how, why, and where UK workers learn. There is a growing need for organisations to modernise their learning delivery tools to meet the expectations of modern workers. Our research found that UK workers spend an average of 12 minutes searching for online resources, with only 22% able to locate resources in less than five minutes.”

Key Learning Motivations Across Sectors

Motivations for learning new workplace skills differ across sectors. Improving performance in a current role was the primary motivator for 55% of respondents. This figure rose to 70% in business and consulting and 79% in the legal sector, indicating the critical importance of learning and development in these fields. Conversely, only 40% of those in energy and 44% in engineering and manufacturing cited improving performance as a key motivator.

Interestingly, 31% of all respondents wanted to learn new skills to increase their chances of promotion within the next year. This figure was higher in healthcare (43%) and the hospitality and events sector (54%), but significantly lower in the legal sector (15%) and public services and administration (24%).

Adapting Learning Strategies for Future Generations

The data highlights the need for organisations to adapt their learning strategies to cater to both current and future generations of employees. Traditional face-to-face learning remains popular among those aged 65 and above, whereas younger workers (18-64) prefer online learning. Notably, a third of 18-24 year-olds prefer to learn through online research, significantly higher than the national average of 19%.

Alex Ball added: “Face-to-face training will always be the cornerstone of learning for modern workers, but when delivered traditionally, it is losing relevance. Organisations should integrate digital interactions to support and apply learning gained in training sessions.”

Embracing Continuous Learning

Karl Edge, Chief People Officer at KPMG UK, emphasised the importance of continuous learning: “Embracing a continuous learning mindset is crucial. Around a fifth of our people are working towards formal qualifications or accreditations at any one time. Our digital learning platform offers a range of resources, including technical training and opportunities to sharpen personal and professional skills, complementing our in-person programmes.”

Edge concluded by highlighting the need for evolving learning opportunities to match the changing landscape and varying needs of younger generations entering the workplace. “Whether it’s becoming a better leader or maximising the use of AI, people must always be supported and encouraged to be curious.”