As we navigate this technological transition, the evidence base for the importance of investment in people as well as machines is growing. Forthcoming research from a survey of UK firms in our Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing shows that the best gains from automation technologies are made when this is accompanied by investment in people.
Last year, the government’s Digital Strategy 2022 highlighted the need to reform our skills and talent provision. This year, novel applications of generative AI have amplified the urgent need for new skills that can harness the opportunities that these new tools present. A revolution in skills provision is overdue. But what does this look like in practice?
In this third session of the 2023 UK Future of Work review being conducted by our Co-Chairs Matt Warman MP and Lord Jim Knight, we are delighted to already have confirmed Sir Michael Barber - leading the government's review into skills - El Iza Mohamedou, Head of Skills at the OECD, Jolene Skordis, Professor of Economics and Director of the UCL Centre for Global Health Economics and Marc Stuart, Director of the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change, Leeds University Business School.
Informing this session will be work from the Pissarides Review into the Future of Work and Wellbeing that IFOW is conducting with funding from the Nuffield Foundation which creates a new mapping of Amartya Sen's Capabilities Approach onto the Future of Work space.
The argument for automation typically suggests that when technological innovations are introduced, productivity improves and wages rise. In this context, the skills debate becomes focused on the needs that industry has, and investment in education and skills is primarily seen through the lens of meeting existing demands.
The Capabilities Approach forefronts human flourishing instead, emphasising human capabilities over technological ones. Rather than experiencing technology as something ‘done to them’, it emphasises workers’ agency and autonomy when new technologies are designed, developed and deployed. In this context the focus of debate on skills shifts towards augmenting human capabilities and maximising opportunities for personal growth.
This shift in emphasis is more urgent now as the labour market experiences disruption in the transition to digital and automation reaches further. A firm level survey undertaken by Warwick Business School as part of the Pissarides Review shows that nearly 80% of UK firms have introduced automation technologies for both physical and cognitive tasks over the last 3 years to 2023, and that — without good human resource management — this raising the risk of eroding job quality and wellbeing. In this new context, a focus on skills solely to meet industry’s needs is unlikely to meet current challenges (including vacancies, economic inactivity, skills mismatch and lack of progression) or maximise new opportunities.
Through the session, we will attempt to explore the following questions: