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The robots are coming – but are British workers ready for them?

Press Release   •  Jun 23, 2016 11:03 GMT

Andrew Neil chairs City & Guilds Group debate on the future world of work

LONDON, 23rd June 2016: Britain is ill-prepared for the rise of the robots, warned the director of The Jobs Economist John Philpott, at a debate hosted by the Lord Mayor at Mansion House earlier this week.

At the second-annual City & Guilds Group Skills Debate, chaired by Andrew Neil, panellists clashed over the impact of trends including an ageing population, the rise of the ‘Uber economy’, and whether British businesses are sufficiently agile to weather these changes.

The panel, comprised of Philpott, Sherry Coutu (Tech Entrepreneur and Founder of the Scale-Up Institute), Sahar Hashemi (Founder of Coffee Republic) and City & Guilds Group Chief Executive Chris Jones, discussed whether workplace innovations such as automation would spell disaster for British workers. They also considered the findings of the City & Guilds Group’s recent Skills Confidence research, which indicated that 75% of British employees are confident that their job will exist in ten years’ time, and 18% do not think there are any threats that could stop their skills being relevant. The debate was streamed live on Periscope and can be viewed in full here.

Philpott warned that we are likely to see further decline in middle skilled jobs, with work taking on an hourglass structure, split between high-skilled, problem-solving jobs at the top and, at the bottom, a large proportion of relatively poor jobs often providing considerable instability. He also questioned whether SMEs are investing in learning and development for their employees, and suggested that to truly future-proof the economy, we need to address the poverty of aspiration within the education system.

Nevertheless, Philpott said he is not particularly worried about the rise of the robots ‘because historical precedents say that technological change creates at least as many jobs as it destroys’. He did however predict that ‘the loss of routine skilled jobs is going to spread quite widely into professional and managerial and technical jobs’.

Both Coutu and Hashemi took a more optimistic view, arguing that there is growing recognition of the role of training. Coutu said she believed the ‘the future is bright’ because educational technology tools are in the hands of teachers and students’. She also suggested that the pattern of employment is changing, commenting: ‘In 20 years’ time young people may have four or five part-time jobs. We will see power shift from employers.’

Hashemi argued that while robots can do routine jobs, ‘there is plenty a robot can't do’ and that humans can set themselves apart by displaying empathy. She also said that in tomorrow’s world, ‘businesses will need to adopt the strategy of start-ups, including agility, freedom and risk averseness, as that is where the opportunity lies’, but recognised that these two worlds are already converging.

Speaking about the increasing importance of employers investing in training their workforce, especially for older workers, Jones noted that ‘expectations about work are changing’ and that in the future, employers ‘will have to think about what is our value to young people'. Referring to the Skills Confidence research findings, he also expressed concern about 'blissful ignorance' amongst the global workforce about the future of work.

Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the City & Guilds Group, concluded the debate, adding: ‘The main need is for aspiration and that is the biggest challenge we face in our education system. It is how we turn out young people who have this innate sense of aspiration.’

Speaking at the debate, Chris Jones said: ‘The world of work is changing. And it’s changing fast. What’s not clear is if people are ready for it, as our research shows that many employees appears to be in a state of blissful ignorance. For businesses to succeed in the new world, they need to leverage the opportunities that technology brings without forgetting that ‘people buy from people.’ That means supporting their employees in developing skills in leadership and management, so they are prepared for the future.

Notes to Editors

  • About the City & Guilds Group
    • The City & Guilds Group is a leader in global skills development. Its purpose is to enable people and organisations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth.
    • Backed by a Royal Charter, the City & Guilds Group has over 135 years’ experience in making sure that people are prepared to contribute to successful businesses and thriving economies.
    • The City & Guilds Group partners with more than 200 companies to develop the skilled workforces that they need, and invests in learning technologies to help people learn whenever and wherever they can.
    • The City & Guilds Group is made up of City & Guilds, ILM, City & Guilds Kineo, Digitalme and The Oxford Group:
      • City & Guilds develops programmes of learning, learning technology, certification and assessment, to support colleges, training providers and governments.
      • ILM helps individuals, education providers and businesses improve the standards of leadership and management through qualifications, accredited training and specialist member services. ILM awards qualifications to over 95,000 managers across the world every year.
      • City & Guilds Kineo is a global workplace learning company. It offers a fresh approach to elearning management systems, apprenticeships and managed learning services.
      • Digitalme designs credentials, using open badges, to recognise individuals’ skills and talent. It works with employers, training providers and over 2,000 schools across the UK.
      • The Oxford Group provides bespoke management training, leadership development and executive coaching to the world's leading companies.
    • Combined, the City & Guilds Group operates in over 100 countries, through 10,000 training centres, delivering qualifications in 26 different industries.

    For more information about the City & Guilds Group visit: www.cityandguildsgroup.com

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