Throughout 2021, the Capita Institute has asked senior business leaders about the tough choices they’ve been making to adapt during the pandemic. Here we summarise the latest responses.

Our great opportunity debate research, in partnership with YouGov, surveys over 350 senior decision-makers across three key sectors: government, financial services and critical infrastructure. We’re taking the pulse of the business world and finding out first-hand how leaders have dealt with everything the past 18 months has thrown at them.

Change has been seen across industries, organisations and within individual roles over the previous three months, with the speed of the changes experienced in Q2 suggesting a very gradual return to a more settled state.

Adjustments continue to be made to working locations and patterns, with technology and regulatory environments shifting – and perhaps unsurprisingly, senior decision-makers continue to feel the aftershocks of Covid-19 and Brexit, with growing concern about supply chain delays.

For this survey, we dug deeper into the crucial issues that have been on business leaders’ minds, including sustainability, future living and the skills gap/reskilling.

Sustainability is high on the agenda

Half of the decision-makers we surveyed believe that sustainability is now more of a priority than it was for them at the start of 2020; this belief is strongest among those working in financial services industries, where 59% think as such. A majority across all the sectors believe that sustainability has become even more of a focus for their organisation (53%) and industry (56%) as well.

A reduction in travel, both for commuting and general business travel, means that changes in working due to the pandemic have had a positive impact on some organisations’ sustainability targets. The shift to hybrid working was found to be the most common initiative launched in response to Covid-19 (56% selected this answer); however, in some areas, Covid-19 has meant that sustainability initiatives have had to be de-prioritised. 

The reskilling revolution

An increase in the size of the skills gap has only been seen by 28% of decision-makers, despite 43% believing that the future of skills has become more of a focus for their organisation during the pandemic. Data analysis is the biggest gap that cuts across industries, while those working in the Critical Infrastructure industry are particularly struggling with vacancies in specialised roles.

Critical thinking, creative problem solving and emotional intelligence are the behavioural skills seen to be lacking the most.

A slim majority of decision-makers generally see their organisations as being very strong or reasonable at reskilling existing employees, with 56% saying so. The biggest challenge in reskilling is finding the training budget to build skills in-house, which means that skills demand is often filled externally, mainly through recruitment. There’s a feeling that the opportunity is there to reskill personally but a lack of time, as ever, is the biggest barrier.

Our latest research shows that business leaders are responding well to the trials of the past 18 months and, although there may be further change and disruption to come, they are keeping their focus on the longer-term challenges that are affecting us all.

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