The Future of Work and Skills

We were delighted to be joined by an enthusiastic group of alumni for a fascinating discussion on the future of work and skills at the Pearson Building in London on Monday 11th December. An awe-inspiring view of the Thames provided the backdrop as guests gathered to renew acquaintances and make new connections before alumnus John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, chaired a lively conversation about some of the major challenges we face as a society. Pearson’s Director of Global Thought Leadership, Laurie Forcier, and researcher Philippe Schneider delivered the key findings from the Nesta/Pearson report on “The Future Skills: Employment in 2030”, inviting guests to take part in a straw-poll on which employment sectors they thought would be play a significant role in the future economy. This provoked a debate on the relative importance of ‘the human touch’ versus the efficiency of AI and automation. Next, alumna Rosie Millard, Chair of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Deputy CEO for the Creative Industries Federation, spoke about the key role of creative industries in the future economy, before University of Hull Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Lea spoke about the University’s readiness for the challenges of the future.

If you are interested in finding out more, check out the short video introducing the report here or the full report here.

Below is a summary of the key points covered in the discussion:

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We should feel more hopeful about the future of work than scare stories about automation suggest.

Most studies of our current technological revolution contribute to fears of automation producing massive job losses, rather than exploring the potential of new technologies for job creation, and identifying the key factors that will influence the future of work and drive growth in other sectors of employment. These include the rise of the green economy, the changing demographics of our population, urbanisation and globalisation. For a country such as the UK, which suffers from structural productivity problems, fears of automation can lead to a damaging culture of risk aversion which will hold back the adoption of new technologies, innovation and growth.

Interpersonal skills, higher-order cognitive skills and systems skills are likely to be in greater demand in the future.

The top ten skills identified for the UK economy of the future are:

  • Judgement and decision making
  • Fluency of ideas
  • Active learning
  • Learning strategies
  • Originality
  • Systems evaluation
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Complex problem solving
  • Systems analysis
  • Monitoring

The future workforce will need broad-based knowledge in addition to the more specialised skills that are needed for specific occupations.

Broad-based knowledge areas such as English language, history, philosophy and administration and management are all associated strongly with occupations projected to see a rise in workforce share. Knowledge specialisms, such as a foreign language, or psychology, are most useful as a complement to the general knowledge areas. This translates across sectors.

Systematic changes are required to make the most of an upskilled workforce.

In the UK in particular, there are certain changes in organisation design that could complement the most important key skills to improve performance and productivity. For instance, enhanced delegation and employee involvement in decision-making and other high-performance work practices should go hand-in-hand with a workforce that is strengthening its judgement and decision-making skills, fluency of ideas and operations analysis.

Whilst the Government invests heavily in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) subjects, there is a great need for arts and creativity.

The role of the creative industries can often be underestimated, but they contribute £84.1billion to the UK economy, and in 2014 grew by 8.9%, which was double the rate of the UK economy as a whole. Whilst the strategy of the UK Government is to focus on STEM subjects, a liberal arts education was identified as being highly relevant to the future needs of the economy by producing individuals that are more likely to have the skills required to promote innovation. Rosie was also keen to point out the vital fusion of arts with technology, highlighting the fact that whilst engineering makes possible the manufacture of products such as the Wind Turbines being produced on the Humber by Siemens today, it is art, design and creativity that conceptualises those products and brings them into being.

Universities are active drivers of change.

The research done by universities is the key driver for change and technological development. LCD technology was pioneered at the University of Hull, for example, and is now a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Today, the University of Hull is part of a research partnership that includes Siemens, and our Engineering experts will work to improve the performance of wind turbines, making them lighter and stronger, and will develop methods to improve maintenance operations. This will be crucial for creating jobs in the Green Economy, and responding to the challenges of climate change.

Universities are also crucial at identifying and delivering the skills needed to equip the graduates of the future to be at home in the ‘brave new world’ of work and to help shape it.  University of Hull graduates have gone on to do just that in many fields, and we are ready to provide the graduates of the future too with the skills that have been highlighted as necessary and already set out in  our strategic plan: ‘critical thinking’, ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘creative and entrepreneurial spirit’, ‘interdisciplinary approaches’ and ‘perpetual learning’.

Interested in being one of the first to hear about our upcoming events and news, joining digital Professional Networks and connecting with your fellow alumni? Please register on Hull Alumni Connects today.

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