Future of work: collaboration holds the key to delivering Good Growth

08 February 2017

Few issues attract more attention from public and private sector leaders than the impact of changing technologies on their growth plans, operating models and workforce. Our most recent Global CEO survey, for example, found that 70% of CEOs are either ‘concerned’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about the speed of technological change. This has increased from 61% in the last 12 months alone. CEOs are also recognising the pressure this places on their workforce, with 77% of respondents expressing concern for the availability of key skills.

It was in this context of unparalleled challenge and opportunity that I was invited to speak about our Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities index at the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce conference on the future of work.

Over recent years the digital revolution has transformed the nature of work, with entirely new occupations being created as old ones become redundant. This rate of change requires a sufficiently skilled workforce to adapt to changing conditions, but also the right culture and institutions to ensure that the skills of a place’s population match the needs of its employers. Similarly, a thriving and supportive private sector environment will ensure that entrepreneurs can set up and expand the new businesses which will be the employers of the future.

The Thames Valley region has important advantages in this respect. In particular, it leads the way nationally on measures of skills and new business starts. These strengths will be key to shaping the future of work and driving sustainable and resilient growth in the region.

However, even for high-performing places such as the Thames Valley substantial challenges remain. Our analysis shows that cities within the region have some of the longest working hours and least affordable housing in the country. Reading and Oxford, for example, are the lowest-ranked cities in the index in terms of work-life balance. These pressures on labour and housing threaten to undermine the ability of organisations to attract and retain the talent that drives job and business creation.

So what can local leaders do to make the most of the opportunities that the changing world of work presents? Perhaps of most importance is to create an environment where talent can flourish. This means creating a quality of life proposition that is equal to, or better, than comparable cities, in order to attract and retain the talent needed for a place to sustain itself. Work-life balance is a particular feature of successful places, as we found when comparing UK cities with those internationally.

This in turn needs urban leaders to work with a broad range of stakeholders in order to shape a place which can succeed not only today but into the future. The government’s Green Paper outlining the new industrial strategy approach stressed the importance of creating the “right institutions to bring together sectors and places”. Our research in the UK and internationally demonstrates that cities which embrace a more distributed leadership approach are most likely to be the ones to succeed in future.

In practice this means that responsibility for delivering Good Growth should come not just from local government, but also from the private sector and other local ‘anchor’ institutions like universities working together to deliver a city of opportunity for citizens and businesses alike.

 

Jonathan Bruce | Economist
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