6 November 2017


#CBI2017 Blog: 'Ensuring automation works for everyone'

Automation will undoubtedly change the face of business and society forever as industrialisation did before it. Our final #CBI2017 panel explore.

#CBI2017 Blog: 'Ensuring automation works for everyone'

Siobhan Kennedy, Presenter at Channel 4, chaired the final panel discussion at the CBI Annual Conference. Assessing the impact of automation on UK businesses, Siobhan was joined by Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Mike Coupe, Chief Executive of J Sainsbury, Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, Alison FitzGerald, Chief Operating Officer at London City Airport, and Duncan Logan, Founder and Chief Executive of RocketSpace.

Five key takeaways from the panel discussion:

  1. 'We must ensure that tech-poor communities aren’t left behind' – In a rapidly changing world of work, Frances O’Grady of the TUC argued that ‘every worker should have the right to reskill and upskill’, to ensure they get their fair share of the wealth that technology generates. ‘Workers need a real voice in shaping our future economy’ to ensure technology is a force for liberation. She added that ‘unions need seats at the table alongside businesses’ over the future direction of our economy, to guarantee everyone a great working life.
  2. 'The world is not going to wait for us' – On the topic of Brexit, the CBI’s Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn stated that ‘the impact of uncertainty is biting’, but in spite of this uncertainty, businesses must get on with investing in new technologies to ensure we are not left behind. Yet, ‘we shouldn’t be under any illusion about how challenging this is going to be’, and urged businesses to look to new ways of upskilling their workforce to ensure innovation does not directly lead to unemployment.
  3. 'We have done a remarkable job in adapting to the changing needs of our customers' – Mike Coupe of J Sainsbury said that his customers demand more of Sainsbury’s now than they ever have. He added, ‘it’s a scary world, but you have to embrace the change’. He urged businesses that ‘we should be looking as a society, not only how we train our young people, but also how we train our older workforce’.
  4. 'We are using technology to grow our business and we will continue to do so' – Alison FitzGerald outlined London City Airport’s exciting plans to upgrade the technology they use in order to better serve their customers and grow the airport’s capacity. They are investing large amounts of money in new training and new technology, and crucially they are engaging their workforce to embrace this change collectively.
  5. 'I would encourage every company to have an innovation programme' – Duncan Logan of RocketSpace encouraged businesses to look at ways they can work with start-ups, and emphasised the importance of large corporates adopting futuristic views. On the prospect of innovation replacing jobs, he argued that ‘society will always come up with new roles’, but recognised that ‘the cadence of change is getting faster’ which can put stress on people. He urged the UK to look at moving away from an education system that stops at a young age, and encouraged a series of training and education that can be offered at multiple stages through someone’s life.