Digital skills key to region embracing 'rise of the robots'

13 September 2018

Research by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority suggests that up to 430,000 jobs or 34% of the current roles in the labour market could disappear in Leeds City Region over the next 20 years as a result of automation.

However, discussing how best to embrace the economic opportunities of automation for businesses and people in the region, the Combined Authority's Employment and Skills Panel noted that in many cases the rise of artificial intelligence and other digital technologies does not necessarily mean that jobs will be lost to the economy but rather that roles across all industries are changing to put greater focus on technology.

With 102,000 people already employed in digital roles, and the number of digital jobs in the region set to grow 10 times faster than non-digital roles, the upturn in automation goes hand in hand with increased demand for digital skills.

This is why the Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are focusing on a number of initiatives to help people develop the skills to get into digital professions and take advantage of the opportunities for better career development, wages and therefore living standards which these roles offer.

The LEP's recently launched Discover Digital initiative, for example, aims to encourage people to consider switching to a career in digital and provides information on how to develop the skills that digital employers are looking for. Reflecting the level of demand for digital skills among businesses, over 20 City Region-based digital employers have already pledged their support for the campaign.

Rashik Parmar, distinguished Engineer for IBM, LEP Board member and Chair of the Combined Authority's Employment and Skills Panel, said:

"Automation is often presented as a threat to jobs in our labour market, but actually it offers huge opportunities for our economy and for local residents if businesses, skills providers and policymakers like the LEP and Combined Authority approach it in the right way.

"For many businesses, automation is an important ingredient of improved productivity which is a major challenge for our region. Our research suggests that closing the gap between the City Region's productivity rate and the national average could add £10 billion to our economy and create thousands of new jobs.

"It's also an opportunity for local people. With digital and tech skills now in huge demand, not just within digital businesses but in all industries and sectors, the opportunities for people to enter highly skilled professions, with great prospects for development and wage growth, are enormous. Our Discover Digital campaign is just one of the ways we're working with industry to inspire people to explore these opportunities."

Meanwhile the Combined Authority is also looking to ensure that people in lower skilled jobs, which are most susceptible to being automated, have opportunities to progress into more skilled roles offering better wages and living standards.

The organisation's joint #futuregoals campaign with the LEP, for example, was designed by young people in the region to inspire other young people, their parents, teachers and advisers to find out about the roles available in fast-growing sectors including digital, and to encourage girls especially to explore opportunities in sectors where there is currently a gender imbalance. It has already reached over 40,000 people across the region.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said:

"We all know the world of work is changing rapidly. We need to make sure that people are equipped to compete in the jobs market and earn decent wages.

"Initiatives like our Discover Digital campaign, our focus on apprenticeships and our work with young people and schools are all helping to develop the labour market that our City Region needs to thrive in future.

"Digital careers aren't just for young people however to fill the 15,000 digital vacancies that are expected to be created in the region over the next few years, we need people already in the labour market to look seriously at the exciting opportunities that are becoming available as a result of digital innovations.

"I'd encourage anyone looking to take their career to the next level to explore the resources available on the Discover Digital website."

Mark Roberts, Co-Founder at Wetherby-based Beer Hawk and Employment and Skills Panel member, said:

"At Beer Hawk we've come across problems recruiting into digital roles and getting local people with the right experience. We're expanding so quickly, meaning that the number and type of digital roles we have available is increasing dramatically.

"We really want to fill these from the talent we have within the region we know people have the talent, and so we want to help them train into a new digital career. Discover Digital can really help people do this by showcasing the skills they need, the employers looking to recruit, and the inspiring stories from people already thriving in these roles."

Information and resources to help people build new digital careers are available at Visitors to the site can learn about potential employers find links to useful networks and hear inspiring stories to help them develop their career.