Welcome to the first Influencers Forum of 2021. The hot topic of the moment is ‘What is the future of work’?  Business life as we knew it has changed beyond recognition and what the New Year holds is still a mystery to many. In this Forum, we have brought together an array of leading experts and influencers to discuss the future of work.

Welcome our panel:

Mims Davies, MP for Mid-Sussex and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department of Work and Pensions;

Julie Kapsalis, Chair of the Coast to Capital LEP and MD of the Chichester College Group;

Victoria Kerton, Regional Director of the NatWest Group;

Dr Zahira Jaser, Professor of Organisational behaviour at the University of Sussex;

Desiree Anderson, MD of Crest Coaching and HR;

Harry Sherrard, MD of Sherrard’s Employment Law and last but not least,

Jonathan Lea, MD of the Jonathan Lea Network.

Welcome to you all and my sincere thanks for joining us today.

The world of work is changing. Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will make this shift as significant as the mechanisation in prior generations in agriculture and manufacturing. Whilst some jobs will be lost and many more created, all will change.

A recent McKinsey report, through detailed analysis of the local labour jobs market across Europe, examined profound trends playing out on the continent in recent years. These include the growth of automation adoption, the increasing geographic concentration of employment, the shrinkage of labour supply and the shifting mix of sectors and occupations. All this will be greatly accelerated by the pandemic.

Research shows that the very occ-upations and sectors likely to be affected by these trends are the very same that are expected to be hit hard by the pandemic. Job growth before the pandemic favoured those with the highest skill levels such as legal and the health sector, across all three sets of local economy clusters. Likewise job growth was also positive at the lower end of the employment market.

However growth in the middle level skill occupations stagnated across all regional labour markets.

So, my first question – the idea of a single education followed by a single career followed by a single pension is over. Is that correct in your point of view and l will direct that question to Mims as the voice of government?

Mims: Absolutely and delighted to join you in this important debate. A fact that has recently come across my desk is that 60% of the jobs that existed in 2014 did not exist in 1990, so l think your introduction is absolutely spot on Maarten. This shows the natural turn of events that has been accelerated by Covid but possibly not caused by it. I do think that automation is a really exciting advent as it can actually create jobs and entire sectors that did not exist before. The young generation need to understand that they will need to be agile throughout their careers and to permanently add on new skills. We must ensure we do not demotivate the next generation but at the same time they need to be realistic about the opportunities that will exist.

In the last decade, we know that 80% of jobs created were in the higher skilled roles and, as the employment minister, l am very aware that despite the jobs miracle that we had coming into the pandemic, we know there are Cinderella sectors, such as care, logistics and some of the more blue collar jobs that people are not keen to do. We need to realign our skills labour market and our welfare policy, and that is something l am doing within government.

Julie: I would echo that and skills are going to be vital but we must avoid a knee jerk reaction whereby we change everything, so we need to be careful. We should recognise sectors that cut across industries such as FinTech. Many regard this sector as just finance and working with banks, but actually it cuts right across a vast number of sectors and we should focus on how these skills can be applied.

I recently joined an all-party Parlia-mentary group where we spoke about how artificial intelligence is playing a major role within the sales process and those wanting to go into that sector will need to brush up their skills and understanding of AI. From my perspective, it does mean that education providers do need to look differently at how we teach; teaching skills that are relevant to tomorrow, not today.

Something l am quite excited about is that as a college group we are putting in a bid for an Institute of Technology, focussing on sustainability through advanced engineering, digital with a focus on artificial intelligence and the twin areas of FinTech, with its broad application and medical technology. To achieve this, we must ensure that schools, colleges, universities and employers work together to create a curriculum that will inspire people to want to study, and to inspire them to achieve progress to the highest level posible. If we can secure an Institute of Technology, it will be a game changer in fostering a pipeline of talent that will pull us through the pandemic and secure our future.

Maarten: Victoria, is that something that you would support and is it something the bank is interested in?

Victoria: Without a doubt. With the bank’s enormous client base, we are in a good position to make judgements about what commerce requires for the future. In a recent research piece, 62% of employers expect to have to re-train or replace over 25% of their current workforce in the coming years and we see that across our entire client base. What we also see is a vast number of employers looking at their workforce and considering them in terms of future technical skills, behavioural skills and current costs, and that is the harsh reality. The pandemic has accelerated these thoughts as we all try to deal with the changes forced upon us. Across all sectors, we are seeing a fast-paced acceptance of the importance of tech skills, across the board, and how this is carried forward. The way we all come to decisions in our businesses has fundamentally changed, and data, tech and automation play a vital role in this and how we can integrate and overlay those two very different ways of thinking. Realignment of skills is vital and the behavioural approach has to be studied as the pace of change is faster than we have ever seen.

Maarten: Looking behind the scene of that topic, Desiree, as the leader of an HR and coaching company, what challenges does this present for your sector?

Desiree: There is no doubt this creates huge challenges for our sector. HR has moved from a rather transactional role to more of a partner role. We need to consider the employee lifecycle which may become more automated. That will take quite a bit of the transactional nature away from HR, which is a good thing, that and agility will be the name of the game going forward.

Culture is also key here and over 70% of employees in a recent study stated that culture would be the key determinant as to whether they joined a company or not.

With the expected blend of employers and education, another very important factor is mental health and that is an issue that is rising faster than we have ever seen. We need to teach our leaders to become more empathetic, more self aware and more emotionally intelligent and try to help the multi-generational workforce of the future. There are now more people over 65 than there are under five and with life expectancy increasing every year, employers will need to be able to connect with this older generation in the workforce, as well as the Gen X, Gen Y and everything in between.

This is no small challenge. HR has a huge role to play here with the employee and the employer, in assisting them to create a roadmap. HR will have to become far more of an ethical partner rather than a capitalist venture.

Do you think HR might end up as more of a social worker?

Desiree: There is that danger. Leaders have to step up and become more empathetic. It is all about collaboration. The other aspect is that so much of the future workforce will be contracted and this will present a new raft of problems.

Maarten: Harry, you deal with employment law, is this a nightmare coming down the line?

Harry: If we consider Desiree’s comments, then no, quite the opposite. If so much of the workforce become contractors, or self-employed, then that presents less issues for employers as currently, workers only have the full suite of rights when directly employed. The distancing of self-employment actually creates a type of quasi independence from the employer. However,  through the prism of employment law, legislation will need to be introduced around the rights of independent contractors and the self-employed if this is set to become such growth sector.

Maarten: Turning to Jonathan, as a law firm do you see many changes happening at this time within the legal profession?

Jonathan: The change we are seeing is more lawyers working, as stated before across other sectors, independently and contracting their services into law firms. There its definitely a trend here. With our law firm we act as a hybrid firm if you like. Although we have over ten staff, they tend to be the support team with five freelance lawyers contracting in depending on their specialty, who work in their homes or their own offices and this works very well as it reduces the costs we carry. We have certainly seen more enquires from lawyers about this, as being forced to work from home has given people a fresh perspective on what they want, and how best to achieve the work/life balance.

It can be quite tough for lawyers to give up the security of full employment and all the contractual rights that go with it, but life is changing and we all need to change with it. Technology is making it so much easier to make this shift. As mentioned earlier by Julie, educators have a role to play here in explaining to young law students that the old way is not the only way and that’s where the word agility comes into play.

Maarten: Zahira, what’s your general view on what you have heard and the future of work in general?

Zahira: I want to go back briefly to the original question of one job one pension as l think that actually disappeared some years back with the last financial crisis. Although l am in academia now, l was actually a banker for over 15 years with Barclays and JP Morgan so l have the benefit of being able to see this from both sides. From the university side, we are a long way down this road. We have an £8 million initiative called the Digit Centre that spends its time producing powerful research on the future of digital work in all its form. We have the future of work hub for which l am deputy director and pulls its research from an array of sources, and as a university, we are very keen to work with the business community wherever possible.

I am also the Deputy Director of the MBA programme and we have recently restructured that to be based on four pillars: Digital Work, so where the future of digital is going; Innovation, how we disrupt and how we bring innovation into the traditional environment, which is exactly what Victoria was talking about;  Resilience, which concerns mental health and how we deal with the fast pace of change; and Policy, so how do we lobby for change, how do we manage as business people to become more active in thinking about policy. After all, we are training the next generation of business leaders through the MBA programme. Technology is a paradox and can be seen as an enabler and a controller. Equally, it destroys job and creates jobs. As the head of the Organisational Behaviour programme, we are concerned about the mental health toll on people. The divide between work and home has been erased, boundaries have gone. Employers and managers have to become much more aware of what is happening with their workforce whilst they are working from home.

There is also a proliferation of HR Apps for example, that monitor what the workers are doing every minute of the day and that is another form of control, we need to be careful how such things are used. On the subject of the Cinderella sector, especially in the care sector for example, so many of these people are motivated by compassion and not salary and yet society has a habit of judging people on how much they earn, and during the pandemic we quickly realised that such value should not be based on earnings but by the value of the job. The same goes for teachers, nurses, carers and the like. If the pandemic has done nothing, it should at least teach us the societal value of the job and not just the pay-packet.

On the subject of mental health, l believe this is a huge ticking time-bomb on a scale we can only imagine. Mims if l can come to you, will the government actually put a designated fund behind this subject rather than paying lip-service and assuming it to be the responsibility of the employer?

Mims: I think it is important to look at mental health and mental well-being, and give people the tools to understand that this is a sliding scale. Regarding the Department of Health, they have put substantial support behind this issue. As a former Minster for Loneliness, and l am proud to say that the UK is one of the only countries to support such a role, it is important to recognise that as many young people as old are suffering from mental health issues and they must be supported, and we are committed to doing that.

At the DWP, we are very focussed on these Cinderella sectors and indeed, in Scotland there is now a Carers Academy attracting people, many of them men, who recognise that they have a desire to give something back to the communities, and l am very keen personally to support that.

Another thing we touched on is the boundary issue with people working from home. The Health and Safety Executive report into me and it is becoming increasingly important that employers do not think ‘out of sight out of mind’ and that they understand that they do have a responsibility for their staff safety and mental well-being even when they are working from home. Some people have the facilities to build that new garden shed for a home office or a spare room, but for many people they are living and working in the same two rooms with no garden for months on end, and l am determine to ensure that employers understand they have a duty of care towards these people.

Interestingly, a recent survey stated that 53% of employees do not think their
employer is doing enough, yet in the same survey 75% of employers thought there were. Harry, is there a disconnect here and do you think we will see the day when such is written into the employment contract?

Harry: On this subject, we are not only an employment law specialist but we also have an occupational health business and we are seeing increasing referrals of staff and, in terms of the demographic, it is mainly younger people being referred. We can be misled by the press stating that younger people are so much better at dealing with the upheaval of the pandemic but that is not the case. Perhaps it is down to experience and the support network that older people might enjoy or possible larger homes, but for younger people many are really struggling and of course, this is the next generation that will be paying our pensions.

On a related issue, many people are praising the work from home movement but l am not a great believer in that. For young people, there is nothing better than having the structure of going to an office, of working out how to deal with all these different people and working alongside your peers, listening to them on the phone, seeing how they interact with people but if you remove that and leave them at home, who is training and mentoring them?

Maarten: Victoria, NatWest is a major employer in the UK, what is the bank doing about this mental health issue?

Victoria: We are very aware and concerned about this issue and we are very active in this area. Support, training, and the general incorporation of mental health and well-being into a comfortable narrative around this subject is vital and we have been working on this for quite some years. Role modelling is so very important and something the bank is very aware of and is critical for the issue of wellbeing of all businesses. Also, access to support in terms of anonymous mental support where needed, we offer coaches allowing staff to talk about such issues of isolation, of feelings of helplessness. My team alone comprises over 90 people and we work really hard to ensure we are all connected and supporting each other. We have a culture of psychological safety.

For example, we recently had a tragic case of one of our business clients committing suicide after his business failed. A shocking instance that of course was devastating for the family but we also had quite a few members of our team who had worked alongside this person for many years, who were left with desperate feelings of inadequacy, feeling they should have done more to support this person, and that is something I personally am really concerned about. At every step of the way, we have to support our teams, role modelling, talking and being there at every step of the way and that is the culture of the bank.

Maarten: Julie, as the head of a major educational establishment in the South East, you have a responsibility to teach the next generation. How big an issue is this for you?

Julie: it is a major issue that we are dealing with every day. Harry is right, it is the young generation that are suffering and we have, sadly, had a substantial increase in suicide attempts and in some cases, they have actually succeeded in their attempt. This is shocking for everyone, and we should not discount the teaching staff here who are greatly affected by such things.

There is no simple solution but talking about it is so very important. The stigma needs to be smashed and people must be encouraged to talk about such feelings.

One other very important aspect is employment. Crawley College is a part of our group and there is a town that enjoyed almost 100% employment, pre-covid. Now, it could be as high as 50% unemployment and that has a major effect on people - their dreams, their aspirations, everything they have studied for over the past years have been dashed. The Chichester College Group is a gateway organisation for the Kickstart Programme. When it was announced, we were overwhelmed by the number of employers who wanted to take part in the scheme. What is so positive from my perspective is that most of them are not just seeing it simply as free labour, they are doing it because they have a deep and passionate commitment to the next generation. They recognise that if they don’t step up, the next generation of skills and talent will simply not be there. They also recognise that although these young people might not have the instinctive awareness of the rules of the office environment, employers understand that these people are their customers, that they can bring a fresh perspective to the company and help to innovate and develop. l cannot overstate how refreshing that is but l am sure Mims has an interesting government perspective on that subject.

Mims:  That is so refreshing to hear. Government has a £30 billion programme for jobs and £2 billion of that is for the Kickstart programme. This recognises the scarring effect of the pandemic, in fact we are now opening a new Job Centre in Crawley. This is designed to give a helping hand to the young unemployed. 20,000 Kickstarters have already been approved and we will continue at pace. We also have an array of new Work Coaches who will be available at Job Centres across the country and in many cases, these are former claimants, drawn from a variety of sectors such as car sales, airlines, banking, actors, retail, tourism and more, and they will be there to help the unemployed start a new career, if that is required.

I would like to move onto organisational culture. Organisational culture is described as a set on interconnected elements that shape the way people think, what they say and how they behave. The thee levels of culture are beliefs, values and behaviour and this is what keeps an organisation moving. Would that be right Zahira?

Zahira: Organisational culture is a huge motivator that operates behind the scene, often without any of us realising it. With our new way of working, often we have to re-shape this culture. For example, if the boss sends emails to his team late as night and expects a reply by the start of business the next day, he has created a culture of working late at night and this is hugely detrimental, so as a manager we have to be very careful of what culture we create. Privacy is another thing we don’t think about. When the team meet up virtually, can they keep their camera off or do we expect them to always have it on? This can create an invasion of privacy therefore pointing out that we need to reassess what culture we create.

Jonathan: This is something we are aware of as even before the pandemic, we were seeing lawyers looking to work freelance and they then of course do not have the organisational culture they have been used to. It doesn’t take long to see this adjustment as there are so many benefits and so it’s a mind change. Many of our lawyers quite quickly say it is the best decision they ever made. Looking at the degree graduates hoping to enter the legal sector, so many of the large firms have placed their graduate programmes on hold so there is a bottle neck created. This l feel will accelerate this new way of working but it will be quite different for the newcomers as traditionally, they would be in the office with the senior lawyers, learning by watching and listening and it might be the case that this will have to change.

Victoria: Can l interrupt and throw in a contrary view to that? At NatWest, we have 50,000 employees working from home but in that time, we are still recruiting, still training, still launching new products - it can be done and many companies are doing it and we just have to adjust how we recruit and how we train. It’s complex but not impossible.

Jonathan: Absolutely, we are still recruiting but this is something, probably temporarily, that the legal sector needs to focus on if we are to have professional lawyers of the future.

Let’s look at the Gig economy. 75% of Generation Z say they would prefer to work in the Gig economy and this sector is set to explode. Desiree, what issues will this create within the employer/employee contract side of things?

Desiree: I think remote working will outstrip the Gig economy but that might change. It’s the career ladder that is set to change into the career web. We will need to unbundle and re-bundle skills and capabilities and within HR, we will have to map out the career web of each candidate and we will have to collaborate with educational organisations to ensure we are ready for this.

The other element that will change is the way candidates interact with the employer and this is where technology will play a part. Imagine getting a feel for the company you wish to apply to with virtual reality, whereby you can have a really good 3D look around the company without leaving your home.

Flexibility on behalf the employee and the candidate will be key.

Maarten: Harry, do you see the Gig economy as a large truck coming down the road?

Harry: I think it is incremental as it has been growing steadily for a few years now. There will need to be legislation to protect and re-define this work so it is down to the government and then the legal process to adjust to this growing sector to ensure protection and rights. There might need to be a new definition, one l am hearing a lot is ‘dependant workers’ so they are not freelance in the fullest sense of the word and therefore would need some form of increased protection.

Julie: So many of our students are already gearing up to be freelance or to run their own business. Young people are quick on the uptake and already they are looking at certain careers that used to be defined by graduate programmes that are now having to re-route. l think one of the biggest influences, although they might not admit it, is their parents so it is important to reach these influencers to cement the message. Traditionally, youngsters would often go into the profession their parents were in but it is such a different world today. Also, there is a better understanding that the university route might not be the best route to follow. It’s a fantastic way to start your career but it is not the only way.

For example, at the Chichester College Group, we supply over 2,000 apprenticeship places annually with the likes of Rolls Royce to name just one and, at the age of 16, youngsters can be learning incredible skills with highly impressive global companies, and without the debt burden of course, but so many parents struggle with that as a concept. I think T Levels will help that but there is significant piece of work to be done on this issue.

Victoria: The other subject look at here is the BAME community. NatWest take on a substantial number of apprentices each year and we bring them together in sessions whereby they can express their thoughts and we can learn. A young man stated that he had absolutely no concept that banking was a career he could follow as he had zero role models. His mother was a cleaner and his father was absent and it was never on his radar so it is opening the eyes of all members of the community as to what is available to them. Indeed, we should actually target certain areas to ensure the message is received. Our staff should reflect our customers.

Mims: At my G20 speech recently, it became apparent that so many employers don’t actually know how to be more inclusive and that is what is stopping them so, without that role model within the family, where on earth are these youngsters supposed to get that motivation and knowledge. At the DWP,  we are setting up Youth Hubs, designed to bring people together to fully explain their options and to point out that nothing is out of their reach because of their colour, race or gender. Role modelling is the key and the Youth Hubs will offer that.

I think many parents still see such apprenticeships as oily rag work and the like but it is banking, creative sectors, retail, hospitality and so much more so, as Julie said, it is important to get this message to parents that it is a very different place to the one in which they were brought up.

Zahira: On the subject of inclusion, how does someone included mentor someone who is not? How does a white person role model a black person? Simple questions but think about it, it is not ideal. At the University, we have mentoring programmes run by someone of the same ethnicity and this makes a significant difference in outcomes. We need to find a common language and that is not our language, it should be the language of the person we are mentoring.

Let’s look at the shift to Asia. A recent piece l read stated that China has quintupled its number of graduates and doubled its higher education facilities. Within the decade, Asia will account for over 40% of all graduates within the G20 countries with over 60% of middle class consumption also coming for this area. Julie, from an educational standpoint do you see that as a threat or a challenge?

Julie: Of course it’s a challenge but also an opportunity. We are all working on a global stage so working across borders is now in our nature. With the increase in tech it is even easier but we should look at our skills so that we can match those figures. It comes through investment and collaboration with business to ensure that we don’t need to bring in the skills but we home grow them. We have over 1,000 foreign students at the college each year and why did they come to us? Because there is still the belief that the UK education system is world-class and it is important as we grow back from this year, that we are not shy about promoting our education system to not only attract foreign students to come and study, but we use this world class system to grow our own people and retain them in this country.

Mims: We must recognise that. Our recent announcement about the major investment into the space industry for example, is an opportunity for home grow the talent required to push that sector forward. With automation, a recent study stated that by 2030, if we fully engage in this, it could add £232 billion to the UK economy, around 10% of our GDP.  And don’t forget, many of the issues we are facing such as the ageing workforce, caring responsibilities, welfare support etc are being faced by most other countries too and we are well ahead of many on these subjects.

Desiree: As certain jobs drop away, higher skilled jobs will drop down into the middle and perhaps it is robots that will take over some of these top positions. It will be interesting to see how humans feel about working with robots and indeed, even having a robot as the boss. This might be more of an issue with the ever increasing older workers, who will no doubt stay in their jobs longer and they might have the toughest task to adjust. We will have to retrain this older workforce to give them the new skills and the new mindset to deal with automation. With so many working longer than their benefits and pensions will last, this is not really a choice any longer.

On that subject, it is projected that over the next decade the economically active workforce aged over 65 will increase by a third. Harry, do you find that you have an increasing number of older workers within the workforce?

Harry: Yes and with age discrimination rules that exist it is no longer acceptable to end employment based on reaching a certain age, and this can be an issue for employers. It is true that older employees can slow down and have skills that atrophy but it is very hard to disentangle the ageing process with job performance but that is what employers have to do.

Zahira: From the university aspect, we find more and more older people coming to us to re-train, to learn new skills and actually reinventing themselves to be ready for this new future. It is what they have to do to remain relevant within the workplace. Something we teach is critical thinking, how to become someone who can appraise subjects, to become agile to adjust to the changing workplace.

A growing trend amongst younger job seekers is the desire to not just have a job but to work for a company that share their ideals, a company that has a mission or purpose in which they can believe. Julie, do you identify with this?

Julie: Absolutely. I only moved over to education myself six years ago and that move was motivated by the desire to do a job that had a direct impact on young people. The other word that to me has changed so many things is authenticity. An employer who is authentic in their actions and purpose so yes, people are looking for more than the pay check.

Maarten: Gosh, from an employer’s point of view this is just more pressure in attracting new team members but then I guess that is the point - redefine the organisation’s purpose for the good of the company and the ability to attract staff who share that purpose.

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