Technology and innovation creating workplace inequality post-Covid, survey reveals

A new research report, Education for a World of Opportunity, reveals that over a third of British SMEs decision makers believe that technology and innovation have created fewer opportunities for unskilled workers to “learn on the job” and progress to higher paid roles.

The YouGov poll, conducted on behalf of ACS International Schools and IBSCA UK and Ireland, surveyed British Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which, in 2022, accounted for 99 percent of UK businesses*. To gain a greater understanding of perspectives, qualitative research was also undertaken with representatives from companies including: the Royal College of Arts, Amazon Web Services and Pepsi Lipton.

The data shows that technology is playing a major role in modern workplaces – nearly a third (29 percent) of British SME decision makers reveal they feel the post-Covid impacts of innovation and technology have created greater inequality within their teams.

Senior decision makers were asked where they believe technical responsibilities lie. Over half (58 percent) believe that everyone, including the leadership team, needs to understand and be able to use the technology that is core to their organisation.

Integrating technology into schools

When asked about how technology should be integrated into schools, Teresa Carmona, Founder at Revive, said: “When I was starting my career, I had to self-teach myself to use Excel and formulas. So, I think schools should teach the basic tools that most workplaces will ask about. I think mimicking a work environment at school when it comes to the use of technology would be good, so it almost becomes second nature.”

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of SME senior decision makers agree that everyone needs basic IT skills such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and email to function in the workplace, and 60 percent expect new recruits, especially entry level candidates, to have these core IT skills.

Robert Harrison, Director of Education and Integrated Technology at ACS International Schools, said: “With ever-more sophisticated technology on the horizon, we cannot put the lid back on the Pandora’s box of big data and machine learning. For students to operate within a changing job landscape with the emergence of new, innovative industries, a unique set of employability skills are required. Applied digital skills – such as digital workflows, database management and data analytics– must not be overlooked by schools. Only by equipping this generation with rounded training in ‘all things technology’ can we ensure our young people are ready for the ever-changing world of work. At ACS International Schools, we use technology to enhance learning and teach students how to use all of the tools around them to the best versions of themselves and be ready to lead future industries.”

From interactive digital skill sessions that cover 3D printing, coding and robotics, to students undertaking on-screen examinations through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), ACS International Schools has embedded technology into daily learning and teaching, rather than isolating the use of technology to weekly ICT lessons.

Harrison explained: “Digital assessments present exciting and extended opportunities to assess what students have learned, in more meaningful ways, with greater student engagement, through contemporary technologies. Schools should function as hubs of extended learning that focus on more than reciting facts and working problem sets.”

Richard Markham, Chief Executive of IBSCA UK and Ireland, added: “Educational assessments do not measure what young people actually know; examinations need to go beyond knowledge recall and assess transferable understand and applied skills. The IB has been leading this space since 2016, when it introduced MYP eAssessment. The IB is also leading in the global education response to sophisticated technologies like generative AI, which offers educational opportunities for students and educators and could be a useful tool to support learning and teaching in many interesting ways.”

Professional empathy vs automation

The YouGov poll data also present concerns amongst employers about the social impacts of technology in workplaces. Almost a quarter of SME senior decision makers believe that greater technological developments will lead to less value being placed on human input and achievements. However, business leaders do think that technology can have positive impacts on working life. Two thirds (66 percent) believe that technology will allow for greater flexibility – therefore making the workplace more attractive to entry level workers.

Over two third of SME senior decision makers surveyed believe that professional empathy is important to job productivity and satisfaction when there is less human interaction.

Solene Adler, Global Senior Insights Manager, Pepsi Lipton said: “The constant need to be stimulated and consume content, due to technology, is impacting attention spans, which to me is a great concern. I don’t think it is conducive to thinking things through, absorbing knowledge, or letting the brain rest to think clearly.”

Harrison concluded: “Education must evolve to keep up with technological developments and teachers will need to be ever-more more creative in their assessments to truly capture young minds. But we must also impress upon students and teachers that technology is just one of the many tools they can use to enhance learning. In the real world, being a tech whizz is not more important than job satisfaction, professional empathy, or productivity – which is why technology integration must be part of a broad, varied and stimulating curriculum.”

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Technology and innovation creating workplace inequality post-Covid, survey reveals

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