More than six million people in the UK are employed in roles that are likely to change radically or disappear entirely by 2030 because of automation and a changing economy. On top of this, the ongoing impacts of the pandemic mean that UK unemployment recently hit a five year high of 5.1%.
In the face of such challenging prospects, it’s more important than ever that workers in at-risk roles have access to the information, training, and support they need. For local authorities, maximising technology and innovation – to help make job information and training more tailored and engaging – is a critical part of the solution.
As more tasks become automated, a whole range of sectors will be affected – including retail, manufacturing, construction, and transport. CBI research suggests nine in 10 workers need to learn new skills or be retrained entirely over the next decade to adapt.
But a major disconnect is that adults who most need career training are the least likely to be doing it. Participation in training by people in lower-skilled jobs which are most at risk of automation is currently 40% lower than that for higher-skilled workers. To address this, we need to make career information and guidance more targeted to people’s individual needs and circumstances.
And here is where innovation and tech have an important role. Common barriers to accessing career information and advice, like a lack of visibility, time and money, can in part be tackled through tech. For example, innovative platforms and apps can make training and careers advice more targeted, accessible and relevant – helping workers to understand what jobs are available in their area and the skills needed to secure them.
All of this is why we created ‘Bob’ – an online coach which has just won the CareerTech Challenge, a £5.75m initiative run by Nesta and the Department for Education to scale up tech solutions to benefit workers around the country. Acting as an impartial job counsellor, Bob analyses information about people’s job searches and the challenges they face, providing tailored, practical, and motivating advice to support them into work. It helps people understand how their skills and job application techniques fit with those required by employers, giving them clear steps to secure relevant roles.
Bob has already successfully coached over 270,000 people in France, with 41% saying the coaching was a key factor in finding employment. Now we are working hard to grow and expand the platform in England, so that as many people as possible can benefit. This includes an ambition to put Bob's technology to use by local authorities and employment service providers, adapting it to local labour market conditions and resources. Bob could be used to support their career services and overall employment policies.
We've already run a successful pilot for this with the local employment service in Brussels. By accelerating the use of this kind of innovation and tech among local authorities, we can ensure that many more people benefit from clear information on the jobs available in their local area and understand how to secure those roles. Faced with a challenging and fast-changing job market, we need to help everyone to feel prepared, not precarious.
Of course, innovation is just part of the answer. To tackle the complex employment landscape will need a combined effort from all quarters, as well as sustained funding. The Government’s latest Lifetime Skills Guarantee announcement, which offers around 11 million adults the opportunity to gain a new qualification for free, is certainly an important milestone.
Yet most important of all is the need for people to have access to clear information on the jobs in their local area, and to understand how to secure them. By maximising technology and innovation to help achieve this, we can make a complex situation clearer for workers across the country.
Paul Duan is co-founder of Bayes Impact