Mithun Kamath is Group CEO of Arc Skills

A job market being transformed beyond recognition by the inexorable march of #AI and #Automation

With the UN marking World Youth Skills Day earlier this month on July 15, we are reminded of just how vital it is that young people are equipped to help build the sustainable, inclusive and stable societies we want them to inherit.

The 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24, who make up 16% of the global population, are the future of our world.

However, young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, the work available to them is frequently less secure, and the transition from education to employment can often be a tough and long process.

Youth unemployment

We can see this quite clearly when we consider that youth unemployment in the UK stands at 11.1%. The number of young people (aged 16-24) in employment fell by 43,000 over the past year.

The UK’s overall unemployment rate is much lower at 3.8%, however there remain persistent worries over the increasingly precarious nature of jobs with Britain’s booming gig economy more than doubling in size over the past three years and now accounting for 4.7 million workers.

Meanwhile there is mounting concern that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit may encourage companies to freeze their hiring plans until they have greater clarity over the political situation. Should the worst fears of a no-deal Brexit emerge, it could hit the jobs market for years to come.

Compounding matters, as we prepare to enter the third decade of the 21st century, today’s school leavers face a job market that is being transformed beyond recognition by the inexorable march of AI and automation.

How robots change the world

A new report released last month found that the number of robots in use worldwide has increased three-fold over the past two decades, to 2.25 million and this is expected to multiply even faster over the next two decades to reach 20 million by 2030.

Since 2004, each new industrial robot installed in the manufacturing sector displaced an average of 1.6 workers from their jobs.

What’s worse is that in the UK and other developed economies, it is their less-developed regions that are being hit hardest by automation.

With Cumbria the part of the UK most vulnerable to the rise of robots, and inner London the least vulnerable, the north-south divide in England that again showed itself so prominently in the 2016 EU referendum, could well be exacerbated if we do not take the challenge of automation seriously and act now to ensure young people are skilled to face the world of work they’re entering into.

Skilled to move with the pace of change

Automation is just one of the many challenges young people in the UK will need to be adaptable enough to prepare for.

Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events and is forcing millions of people from their homes around the world.

Those climate migrants will increasingly come to look to the UK as a place to live and work and British people will need to be sufficiently skilled so that they can engage in this changing landscape.

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For young people to be able to adapt to the new realities, it’s vital that they are skilled to move with the pace of change.

Our education system must be able to produce fully formed, creative, engaged, critically thinking human beings who have the capacity not just to adapt and survive in a world of work changing faster than ever before, but thrive in it.

The UK has a tremendous history and culture of education, but our schools must extend that thirst for knowledge beyond the academic subjects to teach young people skills such as self-management, communication, collaboration and problem solving.

These are the sorts of skills that, no matter what changes are wrought in the job market, or what new challenges or opportunities emerge, will serve the next generation of British people for the rest of their lives.

Transferrable skills are fundamental to the UK’s future

With the right skills, the UK is a land of opportunities waiting to be seized for young people. Despite the threat of Brexit, it is still the fifth-largest economy in the world measured by GDP.

Transferrable skills are fundamental to the UK’s future, with the service sector dominating the economy, contributing around 80% of GDP, and London being the world's largest financial centre. Britain's aerospace industry is the second-largest and its pharmaceutical industry the tenth-largest in the world.

Young people must be given a stake in the nation’s future. And when equipped to do so, the challenges faced by young Britons can be turned into opportunities.

New technologies may be a threat to many jobs we see today, but they will also create new jobs and even entire industries in which those adept and adaptable enough to embrace them can work.

Similarly, tackling climate change will itself produce new horizons for today’s youth with rapidly expanding renewable energy and green technology sectors acting as drivers of future jobs growth. And with a great education, we can also grow the scientific and political minds who may yet solve the biggest threats to our planet.

The future of the UK, and our planet, rests on the shoulders of our children. This is the world we are giving them and the choices our generation has made has meant this can be a heavy burden.

It is too late to change that. But what we can and must do today is ensure our children are strong enough to carry it.

Mithun Kamath is Group CEO of Arc Skills

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