Unhelpful job apocalypse scenario

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Esther McVey, secretary of state for work and pensions, chaired a panel on the future of jobs at the Talent, Recruitment and Employment Conference

Scaremongering about technological disruption and changing workplace trends is an unhelpful narrative for employers and employees as they prepare for the future of jobs, according to a panel speaking at the Talent, Recruitment and Employment Conference 2018.

“There’s the doom and gloom scenario or there’s the opportunity to adapt and get ahead of the curve,” said Esther McVey, secretary of state for work and pensions, and chair of the panel.

“Changes in the world of work are getting quicker and quicker but when we think of robotics, instead of looking at them as taking jobs away we need to get robots to work alongside us to help make jobs less stressful. We have record employment, record low unemployment and a record number of vacancies so it seems technology is disruptive but it is also creating jobs. So we need to make sure we aren’t slaves to it.”

Also speaking on the panel, Rob McCargow, director of AI at PwC, agreed: “The dystopian, job apocalypse scenario isn’t helpful. The challenge for HR and recruiters is how to position the message in a way that won’t increase anxiety among the workforce.”

For Julie Welch, group HR director at Bunzl, this means not scaremongering logistics employees over the likes of self-driving cars, she said.

But, while many companies are deploying AI technology, McCargow said he hasn’t seen any organisations get this narrative right yet. Instead he told of the need to change the narrative, start putting mechanisms in place now, and develop the skills needed.

“There’s a huge economic opportunity with AI,” he said. “By 2030, AI will have significantly added to GDP, helping to drive productivity and consumption and create better jobs.”

McCargow went on to advise that the “niche discussions” on AI should come out of the technology and academic circles and into wider discussions across boardrooms. He pointed to a city in China that is investing in training AI practitioners on a wide scale, saying “boardrooms, schools and the government need to start on this now if we are to be leaders in the field of AI”.

Neil Morrison, HR director at Severn Trent Water, argued that technology also brings different career options outside the field of AI, meaning businesses need to retrain talent to fill any “cold spots”. “We didn’t used to have drone pilots [in Severn Trent] but we have trained employees from within the business into the role,” he explained, admitting however that technical training can be a challenge. He encouraged the use of T-Levels as well as virtual reality and augmented reality to help overcome this.

For Jacqueline Field, global head of resourcing and employer branding at Vodafone, the changing world of work is creating a need to rethink the hiring process, with a key shift to focusing on “potential rather than existing skills”.

“It’s more optimistic to hire for potential rather than what someone can bring to the role now, as we can offer training programmes to help individuals perform,” she said. Field proposed that returner schemes and bringing women into the workplace will help close the talent gap in the UK. There’s also a need to reduce bias by using technology in the hiring process, added Rob Williams, director of field marketing EMEA at Indeed.

The challenge of talent shortages when hiring, added McVey, is that the desire to go to university has driven some away from a more natural path for their skills. “There’s been 20 to 30 years of university being the only option. We need to move away from this – there shouldn’t be a snobbery around other opportunities like apprentices. They’re just different paths,” she explained.

Talk on the panel turned to the need to better align the UK's educational curricula with the job roles that are going to arise in the future.

“Curricula needs to be rethought and young people need to be better prepared for the future, such as gaining tech, AI, and comms skills so that they are more holistically ready for the world of work,” said Field.

Morrison agreed that business strategies, the UK’s industrial strategy and education policy in the UK today don’t align. “We as employers need to know how we can align with and support the industrial strategy,” he said.

“Many jobs primary school children will do when they grow up don’t exist today,” McVey added.

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