19th Dec 2017
Cameron Tait, Head of the Changing Work Centre and Senior Research Fellow - Fabian Society
• There is a clear consensus that the nature of work is changing rapidly
• Globalisation is modelling an integrated job market
• Ageing workforce is occurring at the same time as this technological change
• Need a genuine life – learn culture
Rebecca Bissell – Head of Tech & Data – London Underground
• Technology has been a key enabler – especially when it comes to improving customer service and solving cyber challenges
• London Underground take the training of their apprentices very seriously, and ensure that they are in a safe and secure environment in which to learn from
• London Underground use thousands of bytes of data to process timings and make consumers aware of services each day. This in turn ensures machines reliant on automation are increasingly responsive
• TfL have responded to customer demand through the introduction Oyster card app and interactive Oyster wallet.
Jane Gratton, Head of Business Environment and Skills Policy at the British Chamber of Commerce
• The Young Academy serves as a model, and it equips school leavers with the knowledge, skills and experience that local businesses can help provide
• Businesses are pleading for stability in the education system: ‘Get it in place, leave it alone, and businesses will make sure they get it right’
• There needs to be far more flexibility on the Apprenticeship Business Levy
• Too many businesses are losing good women because of childcare issues and it is stopping women progressing.
Phillip Davies MP opened the APPG session by inviting external attendees to ask who they worked for.
Jo Causon welcomed all in attendance and reiterated the importance of hosting discussions to bring together parliamentarians, policy makers and practitioners, and referenced the fact that 70% of the UK workforce are in customer facing roles.
The topic for discussion at this meeting centred around what skills government, businesses and employees need to invest in now to prepare for the future needs of the economy.
Attendees reflected industries who either utilize technological advances or have a particular interest in the skills sector. Ruth George MP spoke about her background in promoting skills through trade unions, and the SNP’s Deidre Brock attended in her capacity as Spokesperson for Fair Work and Employment.
The Matthew Taylor Review published in August was discussed, with some of those in attendance highlighted the fact that too many young people are choosing an academic route that is not adequately preparing them for the world of work. This is failing to supply employers with the technical knowledge and practical skills they need to grow their businesses.
Speakers and invited guests reflected the current focus on the skills system, welcoming the establishment of University Technical Colleges, reform of apprenticeships and development of new T-Levels.
Phillip Davies suggested that savings generated by automation could be reinvested in businesses, and in particular to enhance customer experience. Jocie Bradley said this has been the experience at Transport for London, where increased use of automation has enhanced customer service in stations, as staff can interact with customers face-to-face.
Jo Causon agreed with this point, but emphasised the need to prepare workers properly to take on these more customer-facing roles. Jane Nuttall asked Jo how much she thought businesses were being given to assist with the training and upskilling of staff. Jo replied that this is not as joined up as it should be, and that there needs to be an added emphasis on the time that businesses spend in training their workforce.
Philip Davies MP cautioned that reliance on machines can cause issues without having customer-facing staff in place. In particular he drew on examples of his constituents who have used online ticketing and who have been unable to collect tickets from machines, and consequently unable to board their trains.
Ruth George MP drew on her experience as a Parliamentary Officer for shop workers’ union USDAW, where she campaigned on behalf of staff in retail, including on raising the minimum wage, improving rights to time off work. She said that unions provide strong links to support and guide apprentices. APPG Co-Chair Chris Evans MP echoed this point, saying that trade unions have always been good at training people up. He reflected on his experiences as an area secretary with the Union of Finance.
On this note, Jo Causon said that in her experience talking to businesses each day, she has found that businesses can find it difficult to retain good staff. Employees need to be seen as customers, and if treated right 56% of employees are motivated by giving back, with only 11% primarily motivated by money.
Chris Evans MP spoke about his background, working in a customer-facing role before entering Parliament. Jo Causon reflected that too many people see customer service roles as low level, and that emphasis needs to be placed on the positive impact service has for the UK economy.
Concluding the discussion, Baroness Howe CBE stated that she would like to see more effort made with gender equality. She said it was good to see more women entering the Commons with middle management experience, but that she is not convinced there is enough promoting of equality in schools.
Chris Evans and Jo Causon finished the meeting by thanking speakers and guests.
Chris summated the discussion by saying that many in the room acknowledged the increasing presence of technology, but that it was generally agreed that machines will not be able to fulfil customer service roles, where the human touch is at a premium. There is evidently still a need for personalised advice and service and it is important that this personal touch is maintained.