Last month, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills published a critical report that should be vital reading for businesses and policymakers.

The Future of Work, Jobs and Skills in 2030” analyses key drivers and trends for work and skills in the UK within a global context and how these will change in the years leading up to the the fourth decade of this century.

It assesses potential disruptions and innovations, such as automation or computerisation of professional work, de-globalisation and additive manufacturing and, more relevantly for the Welsh Government and its sector-led economic strategy, includes an analysis of seven key sectors of the UK economy including business and professional services, creative and digital, manufacturing, and construction.

However, with my colleague Dr Martin Rhisiart of the University of South Wales having applied his expertise in futures studies to the research team, the most relevant and interesting aspect of the report is how it outlines the way that employment might develop over the next two decades by proposing four possible scenarios for the UK economy.

The first scenario examines ‘business as usual” with greater business flexibility and innovation in many sectors leading to a modest recovery while a sharp rise in flexible working will change the way that many managers and workers do their daily duties.

A more disruptive option is found with the second scenario namely that of the “Great Divide” with strong high-technology industries, especially those in life and material science industries, driving rapid economic growth but resulting in a two tier society with increasing divisions between the haves and have nots.

The third potential scenario is that of “Skills Activism” with innovation in technology driving the automation of professional work, prompting an extensive government-led skills programme to re-
train those whose jobs are at risk. Finally, Innovation Adaptation will mean that in a stagnant economy, productivity is improved through a systematic implementation of ICT solutions.

So what does these different scenarios mean for businesses here in Wales and what will their employees look like in 2030?

First of all, the UK workforce will become multi-generational, older, and more international, with women playing a stronger role.  However, there may be a situation where the majority will experience increasing employment and income insecurity whilst the highly skilled will be pushing for a better work-life balance.

Businesses will also become smaller as workforces are reduced to a minimum with outsourcing to external providers becoming more prevalent to cover shortfalls. This may create opportunities for entrepreneurial firms but will also create greater security for those remaining within the downsized businesses. In fact, there will be greater flexibility for organisations and individuals as they move from project to project depending on demand for their expertise and skills.

In terms of information technology, it will continue to dominate work environments and new innovations may lead to certain types of jobs becoming obsolete whilst strengthening others. Indeed, it is likely that the strategic importance of technology within business models will lead to a greater selectivity over how and where industry operates in the future, leading to challenges for governments in stimulating economic development at a time when reducing the deficit will continue across the developed world.

Therefore, this an important report for a number of stakeholders within the Welsh economy. Businesses in Wales looking to attract and develop talent as a key resource for competitiveness will need to examine its findings in detail, especially as it is now becoming accepted that adopting a ‘steady as you go’ strategy is no longer acceptable in an increasing number of sectors. Our education providers will have to  examine the conclusions carefully so that schools, colleges and universities can adjust their curricula accordingly to meet the future needs of employers. And the Welsh Government needs to consider how the changing scenarios presented within the study has an impact on their policies going forward across all of its departments and not just economic development.

Two decades ago, we all thought that we would be working less hours and spending more time with our families. Yet, the mobile revolution has meant that we are now working at all times of the day and in all locations as the accepted divide between work time and personal time has become blurred beyond recognition.

If the world is going to change still further by 2030, then we all need to be prepared for those changes if the Welsh economy is to benefit and this report is an excellent preparation for such an exercise.

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