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The Future of Work in Cities

February 7, 2018

On a rather blustery and damp day at the end of January, a large group of people gathered at City Hall for the Centre for Cities launch of the 11th edition of Cities Outlook, their annual analysis of economic data for the UK’s 63 largest towns and cities.

IMG_0560© Cathy Dunn

This year’s standing room only event – not sure whether it was it the lunch provided, the view or the topic which encouraged its popularity – took as its focus The Future of Work in Cities and the impact increasing automation may have.

The session was opened by Chief Executive, Andrew Carter, who gave a short summary of the key points in the report, which is a comprehensive overview of UK cities and one of the first to look at them from an intra-national perspective.

With regard to the rise of automation, it is clear that northern cities will be more affected with 1 in 4 jobs likely to be lost rather than the 1 in 7 loss projected in the south. And even between cities across the UK there is a marked variation, this is something that we as a country need to act on now rather than waiting.

Gemma Tetlow, FT Economic Correspondent, looked at the data from a national perspective, saying that overall 60% of the UK population are positive about automation but are, nonetheless, worried that robots will destroy jobs in the coming years. She voiced concerns about whether polices and funding are really available to support the changing environment and also the impact that the Brexit effect has on the ability of organisations to commit to any one particular strategy.

We then heard from Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, who sees cities having an increasingly important role in opening up of resources with place leadership at a local level growing. He sees the ability to harness the collective possibilities of a national and international network of cities as growing in importance in the coming years and indicated that he felt the cost of getting this wrong might turn out to be higher than we may expect.

And finally, Naomi Climer, President of the IET, discussed how the potential for inequality is clearly there but we should remain optimistic overall as the possibility of creating meaningful work does exist. Investment in technology also needs investment in skills and there are good examples of organisations doing just this and enhancing the skills of their workforce. This led on the topic of education and how best to teach schoolchildren about automation, programming and coding and whether it is possible to have a root and branch overall review of the educational curriculum rather than constant (and largely ineffective) tweaks.

We then followed up with a lively question and answer session covering a range of topics from Universal Basic Income to the environmental impact of technology. There was, though, considerable focus on education and training and the need for access to lifelong learning along with the previously mentioned curriculum overhaul. In this year of engineering we should indeed spend time and effort on the requirements for STEM skills and encourage their take up at primary school in order to build a skilled and effective population in years to come.

Written by Cathy Dunn, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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