Workers turning to AI to beef up their office skills

07 June 2024 4 min. read

UK workers feel they are being left in the cold by current training initiatives from their employers. A new survey suggests that as many as six-in-10 staff have turned to social media and online platforms to boost their office skills – while younger professionals are also turning to generative AI for support that their managers are failing to provide.

Staff education has long been recognised as a cornerstone of successful digital transformations. With companies spending the last decade rushing to equip themselves with the latest technology for fear of missing out, many firms have talked a big game about ensuring their workers are primed to get the most out of the new set-up. But repeatedly, surveys have emerged suggesting staff do not feel their bosses are actually doing enough.

With the majority of digital transformations still failing – possibly partially due to this – and firms now rapidly adopting the latest ‘it’-technology of AI into their operations, a new survey has found that workers are taking matters into their own hands. According to a survey by OnePoll on behalf of KPMG UK, 62% of staff have used social media or online platforms to learn new workplace skills, with 20% doing so regularly.

Workers turning to AI to beef up their office skills

The data from 2,000 UK adults who work behind a desk for at least 75% of their working day suggests employers must develop more interactive ways of delivering their own in-house learning, according to KPMG. Failing to do so means employees may be getting their information from disreputable sources, which could ultimately end up harming the company’s productivity – something exemplified by the fact that a large number of younger workers are also looking to generative AI for advice

Analysing the numbers, KPMG found that 56% of all 18-to-24 year-olds and a third of 25-to-34 year-olds have already used GenAI to learn new workplace skills, compared with only 15% of those aged 55-to-64. And most of those workers will also have suggested they do not fully understand that technology yet – with 61% of all workers saying they wanted specific training on how to use GenAI.

Commenting on the findings, KPMG UK’s Director for Learning Services Alex Ball said, "Since the pandemic we’ve seen significant transformations in how, why, and where UK workers learn, and a major shift in their need for digital and soft skills, which are well known skills gaps in the UK economy. We know that workers appreciate having dedicated time to learn and access to high-quality resources, but how they want to access those is changing. At home when we need to know something we can access the answer immediately by reaching for our smartphones.”

Skill demands

Further detailing the training-vacuum in which this occurs, Ball noted that workers take their expectation of “immediate answers” with them to work, but often “outdated learning technology” means when they get stuck, they struggle to find the learning they need. As a result, KPMG’s paper shows the average UK worker spends 12 minutes searching for online resources, “with only 22% able to locate resources in less than five minutes”.

He added, “This is why we are increasingly seeing workers turn to social learning platforms and AI to access learning in the workplace. There is a growing need for organisations to modernise their learning delivery tools to meet the expectation of modern workers, take control of the learning content and ensure that the learning consumed by their employees is aligned to their ambitions as an organisation."

As it is, only 44% of respondents agree they have the right skills to perform their roles effectively. When it comes to what workers want help with from their employees, the most in demand areas for training are digital skills, listed by 44% of respondents; industry-specific knowledge on 43%, and soft skills such as communication and leadership on 41%.

The survey data also reveals generational differences in how people prefer to learn – which organisations will need to adapt their learning offerings to. While staff over 65 preferred face-to-face learning, every other age group preferred online learning. And while half of all respondents said they preferred to learn new skills organically through on-the-job experience and practice, that figure falls to 36% for 18-24 year-olds, suggesting those early in their careers want more structured learning.

Ball noted, "Face to face training will always be the cornerstone of learning for modern workers but when delivered in a traditional way, it is losing relevance. Organisations should recognise the ways in which we engage with technology outside of work and integrate these digital interactions to support and apply learning gained in training sessions… Organisations should emulate the social and microlearning approach of social media or streaming platforms, by offering easily accessible short videos and interactive quizzes, integrated into the workflow, and insightful podcasts made available for flexible listening.”