When will robots replace our jobs? How can new technologies help to reskill and upskill workers? What are the challenges in managing a dispersed global workforce?
These were just some of the issues raised at the International Risk and Horizon Scanning Symposium (IRAHSS) in Singapore a few weeks ago. Against a backdrop of futuristic sky-scrapers, and shimmering water, the conference brought together leading ‘futures’ experts to discuss how foresight can be applied in policy and strategy to respond to a complex and uncertain future. As part of this gathering, UKCES presented findings on the Future of Work exploring what jobs and skills will look like in 2030.
Alongside debates about robots replacing jobs (which could affect up to 47% of employment in USA in the next few decades in case you were wondering!) another conversation emerged around the interconnected and network-oriented nature of work in the future. Trends suggest that firms will become ‘network orchestrators’, seamlessly working across virtual project teams which may be based anywhere in the world. Increasingly, value and innovation will be drawn from these external networks rather than by firms relying on the internal capabilities of their organisation.
This is reflected in the emergence of so-called corporate global value chains (GVCs) over the past decades - where the different stages of the production process (e.g. design, production, marketing, logistics and distribution) are located across different countries.
Countries like Singapore and the UK, for example, will have to confront the challenge that this may mean having a highly skilled workforce is no longer a source of competitive advantage. China and India are outstripping graduate numbers and projects and processes can be relocated to anywhere in the world. This might mean that ‘old models’ of borders and national boundaries – including national systems of education and skills – could become less relevant.
To contribute to this debate, UKCES has just published a new briefing paper exploring what the UK can learn from a Singapore study into global value chains and the future of high skills by academics Phil Brown, Jonny Sung and Hugh Lauder.
The paper explores the evolution of global value chains and draws out ten implications for the UK. For example, how can small firms link into these geographically dispersed value chains? How can we build world-wide ‘real-time’ industrial and labour market intelligence that can provide insight into these global networks? How are global value chains reshaping the structure of jobs?
Although this work may raise many questions surrounding the world of work in the years ahead, it is clear that being forewarned and informed is the key to ensuring the UK remains a competitive force in an increasingly global economy.
In the words of Leadbeater and Wilsdon, as quoted in the paper: “Britain needs to ready itself for a world of global innovation networks in which ideas and technologies will come from far more places. It needs to act now, while China and India’s innovation capacity is still developing, and not in ten years’ time when it is already too late”.