UNISON survey shows public service workers are ready to learn

A third of public service workers are worried they’ll lose their jobs due to technological innovation or government cuts, according to a UNISON survey published today.


Despite this one in ten feel additional training has protected them from the threat of redundancy, with staff feeling more secure in their jobs because of the new skills they’ve acquired.

The findings, from a skills survey of more than 38,000 public sector workers, reveal that a third (34%) believe it ‘likely’ their jobs might go in the next 36 months. But the workforce is overwhelmingly keen to learn, with more than four fifths (81%) reporting that ‘learning is important to my self-esteem’.

Staff in sectors hardest hit by cuts were the most pessimistic, with half of local government workers (50%) worried they could be made redundant. More than two fifths of further and higher education employees (44%), and just under a half (49%) of utilities staff – who generally work in call centres – were worried about job security.

Over half (57%) of the respondents highlighted automation as the main risk to their jobs, mainly because they don’t have the skills to keep pace with the changing workplace.

Staff with low or no qualifications were twice as likely (30%) as those with the highest qualifications to identify a gap in their digital and management skills. They were also more likely to have issues with literacy (11%) and numeracy (18%).

Employers’ reluctance to provide staff training was frequently mentioned in the survey. Police and justice workers were among the most dissatisfied with the lack of training on offer, with just under three quarters (74%) highlighting issues with employers as a barrier to training. 

There is a culture within the public services where employers are reluctant to invest in the future according to UNISON head of learning Teresa Donegan

Speaking about the research Teresa said:

It’s clear staff know what they need from training and are willing to put in the hard work to improve their chances of avoiding redundancy and securing promotion. But chronic under investment and a short term ‘let’s just get by’ attitude from bosses is storing up problems for the future.

To avoid a widening public sector skills gap, government and employers need to invest in training staff at every level. It’s crucial staff can get access to lifelong learning opportunities to make sure they’ve the skills to meet the challenges of the changing workplace.

Unionlearn Director Kevin Rowan commented that:

This is a fantastic, but sobering, piece of research which not only highlights public service workers concerns about the future, but also shows how keen these workers are to access training and build the skills that are needed for tomorrows workplaces.”

The Skills for the Future Survey was carried by the University of Exeter and is based on responses from 38,701 UNISON members.