With skills being seen as the top priority by chief executives in every business survey carried out in recent times, the latest “The Future of Jobs” report from the World Economic Forum is required reading for anyone associated with developing our economy.

Not surprisingly, the study focuses on the impact of technological changes on employment and the transformations being faced by a range of different industries.

It states that whilst there are threats that could negatively affect competitiveness and jobs as the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution begins to take shape, there are also great opportunities for developing better and more productive jobs that could improve the quality of life in all economies. In fact, whilst 75 million jobs may be displaced by a global shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, 133 million new roles may emerge that are more relevant to this new reality in the workplace.

But what are the main issues facing policymakers here in the UK with regard to skills and how do we respond to them?

Naturally, organisations will look to seek talent from outside of the company who can work with new technologies but they will also look to retain and reskill existing employees. Indeed, the biggest issue for organisations is not the attraction of new staff but how to develop the skills of those already working for them.

In fact, the report suggests that around 54 per cent of all employees will require significant upskilling by 2022 which is equivalent to around 17.5 million of the workforce currently employed in the UK.

Whilst increased abilities in a range of technology skills will be vital, it will also be critical to develop softer and more entrepreneurially-oriented skills such as creativity, leadership, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

Given all of this, the real question is whether politicians, policymakers, businesses and educational institutions in the UK are focusing their efforts predominantly on producing new entrants into the workforce instead of supporting those already working within the labour force who are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of the future.

It doesn’t need to be this way though. Businesses, as well as public sector organisations, can begin the process of change by taking a far more strategic view of not only the demand for specialist skills but in understanding where their workers will need to have the appropriate skills that will enable them to play a role in the workplace of the future. This can be kick-started by encouraging the development of a lifelong learning strategy within every organisation which will regularly assess the potential skills gap that could emerge amongst existing workers.

There may also be a need for universities and colleges to re-examine their focus and not only develop those courses that are relevant to the needs of the Fourth Industrial revolution but to look outside their undergraduate market to provide the digital training required by organisations for their workforce.

As we have seen recently with Cardiff and Bangor Universities, there are real financial challenges facing the higher and further education sector over the next few years, and adopting this approach may be an opportunity to develop a new market that could have a significant impact on local economies.

Any development in this direction will also require policymakers to take this issue more seriously than they have in the past and ensure that there is support for businesses to develop their workforces to meet the real challenges in the global economy over the next decade.

This is certainly something that the all City and Growth Deals should examine in more detail and a more coherent approach by the UK and Welsh Governments in helping to address the changing nature of work could be the most important impact that politicians could have in generating a real competitive advantage in the future.

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