Keynote speech by Naomi Climer

Chatham House Future of Work Conference

Keynote speech by Naomi Climer

Welcome to the 2018 Chatham House Future of Work conference looking at opportunities and risks in a digital age.

I’m Naomi Climer – a former Commissioner on the Independent Commission on the Future of work launched by Tom Watson MP in 2016 and I’m now Co-Chair of the Institute for the Future of Work or ‘IFOW’ which we’re announcing today. I’d like to thank Chatham House for partnering with IFOW and inviting me to be here so that I can speak about our plans.

So today, I’m introducing the conference and chairing the first session, but I’ll also take the opportunity to talk about the work that IFOW is doing. It’s a great honour to be able to speak publically about IFOW for the first time today at this international conference which has brought together so many world leaders for the 3rd year in a row.

You’ll see that the agenda today takes a look at work from a number of different perspectives - in fact the future of work has become a hot topic in the private sector and academia - but we’re not yet seeing enough practical action at a local or national level - and that will be needed to ease transition. Today, this conference hopes to bring together a broad range of speakers across multiple disciplines - from industry, academia, government and beyond - the same is true of the audience which has many people active in this space bringing a wide range of perspectives – so I’m looking forward to a productive day.

I mentioned the Independent Commission on the Future of work, which published its report last December. Several of the Commissioners - who you will be seeing more of today - have decided to build on the research and recommendations of the Commission which has given us an excellent start and a growing network. So we’re establishing an Institute for the Future of Work with myself and Sir Chris Pissarides as Co-Chairs. It will be a practical and independent think tank with an ambitious mission to equip Britain for the Future of Work. We’ll create and incubate solutions to challenges faced by people as work is transformed - to help people, organisations and government work together and make work better and fairer. We’ll be extremely open in our approach. There are a number of bodies looking at aspects of the Future of Work - we’re working with many of them already and we look forward to collaborating with more in future.

The fact that we have a Nobel prize winning economist in Sir Chris as Co-Chair alongside an engineer and former President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (that’s me) as well as a wide range of disciplines represented on our Trustee Board and in our advisors demonstrates our view that this challenge cuts across many areas.

We’ll take a cross-disciplinary, ‘ecosystem’ approach looking from productivity, creating and valuing good work, business ownership & control to education, skills and equality.

Across the range of these themes, IFOW will be harnessing the best in academic thinking, but we’re also keen to learn from other methods and data from the private sector to find new approaches to make a meaningful difference. Added to that, we’re fairly determined to work alongside people and communities in transition to make sure that their voices are heard and amplified too.

In prioritizing our attention, we’re keen to promote equality and support those who are most at risk during the transition. One impact that we're paying attention to is that technology is not being developed and applied uniformly across the country. So we’re beginning to see issues of inequality across different sectors, regions and population groups with some regions in danger of being increasing left behind.  We’re keen to work with industry as well as government in different regions around the UK as we’ve already found some examples of best practice in taking employees on a positive journey through automation and re-skilling. We’ve seen that it’s possible to automate, improve productivity and create better work for employees, and we’d like to promote that mindset in government and employers by creating (among other things) a Charter for Good Work and blueprints for best practice in the introduction of new technology to the work space.

We believe that the new technological revolution should also be a revolution in policy. The speed and depth of transformation is outstripping the pace and creativity of traditional policy-making. So we’ve begun to look at new ways to develop practical solutions, involving the experience, ideas and energy of people who’s work and lives are already being transformed. We’re working beyond the parameters of a traditional think tank and pioneering a new collaborative method of civic enterprise and agile policy development to connect ideas and research with action.

We’re also researching how AI and machine learning could be applied to fill knowledge gaps and generate better policy in collaboration with the Rhodes Artificial Intelligence Lab. We’ve very grateful to the Lab and look forward to publishing a first report over the summer.

One concrete example of an IFOW programme is being driven by my Co-Chair Sir Chris Pissarides who has begun to map a programme to develop a disruption index. Sir Chris will lead with Michael Osborne, Associate Professor of Machine Learning at Oxford University and John Evans, formerly General Secretary of OECD TUAC and on the programme later today. Both Michael and John are former Commissioners and are now IFOW advisors.

The idea behind this index is that measurements for job quality are important but we need to go further and look at the relationships between job quality, work change, how technology is being introduced, productivity and other key indicators of ‘disruption’. It’s this that will help us understand and respond to disruption with a view to building practical, granular solutions. This will be particularly important in regions which host high numbers of workers in ‘risk’ sectors, like traditional retail and transport.

Alongside our disruption index, we need to consult on moving towards more positive obligations and think about whole range of new labour standards as we try and update existing frameworks and reduce some of the inequality that I mentioned and we’d also like to explore different company ownership and control models so that employees get to enjoy some of the profits and powers enjoyed by the tech owners. One of our Trustees is Graeme Nuttall OBE, former independent Reviewer of Employee Ownership for the Coalition Government in 2012. He formally advised the government on the need to establish an independent Institute that promotes research, educates and provides guidance on future employee ownership and we aim to fulfil that role.

There are other work streams underway, so if you’re interested, our Founding Director Anna Thomas and quite a few former Commissioners and advisers to the newly forming Institute are here today or you can find our website at IFOW.org which is now live.

So I’m very much looking forward to the breadth of the day ahead and I’m delighted to introduce our first panel around productivity. Britain is still one of the top 10 countries for living but we’ve dropped down on the percentage of GDP invested in technology-related R&D, productivity growth, 21st century skills and active labour market policies. Unless we work together to take a focused and strategic view on the future of work, these trends may be here to stay, so this event today feels timely and crucial.

Paula Hagan