Experts from industry and academia say technology will change the jobs we have and the way we do them – with self-driving vehicles, genetic engineering, cyborgs, robots and satellite technology all impacting on the world of work in Leicestershire.
Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the technological advances already being seen in the workplace.
They pose a threat to people working in mundane and monotonous low paid employment – but also those in sectors such as law, accountancy and banking, plus fishing and farming.
But while technology will threaten, or even do away with, some jobs, others will be created.
There are likely to be new posts across the board in tech industries, from App development to space exploration and bio-engineering.
And in sectors where the total number of jobs will decline, such as manufacturing, there will be new, high-pay, specialist roles created.
Meanwhile, service-related jobs that can’t be replicated by robots and automation will need more people than ever.
These are likely to include the care industry, construction and even financial advice.
But, one thing is certain: workers will need to be more highly skilled and flexible.
Virtual reality is already being used to help the way we design buildings
That will have implications for companies and education providers, who will need to work closely to ensure jobs are filled and existing staff are retrained and retained.
It could be that the Government even needs to subsidise some courses in the sectors most hit by a skills shortage.
However, alongside this bright shiny future, there could also be a continuing growth of low-paid, gig-economy work, with attendant implications for individuals, the economy and society.
And, while some of these changes are happening now, experts are agreed that the main march of the robots, and other technological quantum leaps, are still some years off.
Dr Simon Ashby, associate professor of finance at Plymouth Business School, said it’s already a challenging time for many sectors and this will be exacerbated.
“I can’t see a massive renaissance in fishing and farming, for example,” he said. “There will be large farms, more mechanisation, but it’s not going to be great for small farmers or fishermen. You will see some boutique stuff, like line caught fishing, but it’s a declining industry that has been in decline for some years and I can’t see how we are going to turn it around.”
On the other hand, he said, tech-based industries and service sector jobs will grow.
“The UK is very much a post-industrial economy, based on services and we have an aging population, so social care becomes a major part of that,” he said.
“We have small businesses, entrepreneurial, linked to the internet, using social medial, so possibly we will see that grow.
“But our economy is about more than that. We punch above our weight in terms of innovation, science, the internet and manufacturing.
“Then there is space exploration. The UK has a great history in building satellites and components. Newquay has been picked to be a space port.
“High-tech science will continue to grow and so will the IT and digital sector, Apps and things to make our lives easier, the internet of things, electric and autonomous vehicles, cars connected to the internet, routing themselves, even finding a space to park in.
“Heavy industry will continue to decline, but it will be more positive for alternative energy, solar and wind, that will be a continuing growth area.”
However, he warned of an “increasingly split workforce”, with businesses willing to invest in the brightest and most talented.
“The future is bright for those with higher skills and education,” he said. “But it will be more difficult for people who have not got that.
“The gig economy will be more insecure. We are seeing wages being pushed down in these sectors and I think that is likely to continue.
“So it’s a brighter picture for some, but not for others.
“That means it will be important for people to get good training, not just university but higher apprentices.
“Those people that are investing time and effort will have relatively secure jobs.
“Another problem is we don’t have enough young people in this country,” he added. “We have an aging population. People will continue working longer, but they can only work so long.
“We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of young people to do that work. It’s a problem we will have to look at.
“And businesses are increasingly mobile. If they can’t get a work force here they will move to another country where they can get labour. That will be a key issue for Government.
“The idea of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands, there are not many economists that would say that wouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy.
“And should we offer free university places for courses like health care, science and engineering?”
Mark Skilton, professor of practice at Warwick Business School and an expert in business technology who has advised Government, is convinced automation will change the workplace and threaten workers in retail, banking and insurance jobs in the next decade, and impact low-skilled and management jobs too.
But, again, there will be winners and losers.
“The jobs that go will include banking and insurance admin jobs, for instance, but it will create portfolio services jobs, where they are offering other services. That is happening already, a blurring of the role of advisor,” he said.
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“So low end jobs in the service market will disappear but there will be more advisory jobs and more skilled jobs.
“Also, there will be more health sector jobs that are community based.
“And there is lot of demand for scientists to do automation and programming, the UK economy, particularly in places like London and Cambridge, is good at that.
“My own area is education, so online training, blending online to classroom time, will increase. In five to 10 years we will shift to a blended level, that’s already happening.
“We will also see a lot of personal wearables and smart homes, and more lifestyle coaches.
“Farming is automated already, but it will be increasing yield and productivity.
“But when I asked a room of 60 millennials if they think they will lose their jobs to automation they said no.
“They think smart Apps, which will talk in different languages in real time, will assist with jobs and we will be smarter and more productive as a result.
“And while the legal profession’s back office will disappear, replaced by algorithms and robots, you won’t get them making ethical judgements. Machine knowledge is not that smart. Going into the dock and seeing a robot is a way off yet.
“What we call ‘world knowledge’ is still a long way off.”
He said there will be more automation with robotics in surgery, but again, a few years away yet.
“In the next 30 years there will be complete automation of routine medical procedures. But that’s still 20 to 30 years away,” he said.
And while Prof Skilton believes self-driving cars are on their way, he think’s Ford’s target for 2025 is a tad early.
But he said: “A lot of local travel with trains and lorries will be automated in the next 10 years.
And large scale 3D printing is about 10 years away.”
And he said there will be new jobs in cyber security, nano- and bio-tech
“The new jobs in the fourth industrial revolution will be about nano technology and bio engineering, there are new skills being created.”
In early 2017, City College Plymouth commissioned research into the shifting world of work. The resulting publication The Future of Careers in Plymouth contains details about which sectors are expanding and contracting.
It said the health sector will continue to grow, by 8.3 per cent, but that aside, the private sector will outstrip the public realm.
Employment in the education, public administration and the defence sectors is expected to fall.
But professional jobs will grow by 32 per cent, scientific and technical services will expand by 27 per cent, the construction industry will grow by 23 per cent, and information and communication will enlarge by 21 per cent.
There will also be growth in the creative industries (16 per cent) and accommodation and food (11 per cent).
Automation and robotics will cause a decline in employment numbers in manufacturing, the research said.
The Bank of England has warned that 15 million jobs in the UK are under threat by robotics, the study said, with an 80 per cent risk for accountants, auditors, technical writers, train and tram operators and power plant operators.
At medium risk are judges, magistrates, economists, computer programmers, commercial pilots and financial advisors. Lowest risk – less than one per cent – is in the healthcare sector.
Martyn King, director of Fuel Communications, which has offices in London and Plymouth and was commissioned to carry out the research, said the employment picture provides short-, mid- and long-term hurdles for employers.
He said employers will have to look at their training needs, for instance bespoke apprenticeships.
“There are really good employers in the legal sector working with colleges to create legal apprenticeships as a completely new route to going to university,” he said. “And we will see more of that in the construction sector.”
Anthony Painter, director of the action and research centre at The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, runs a think-tank covering the economy, education and the future of public services and communities.
He said: “We are talking about the future of work and how we can support people to adapt to the many changes they face and may face.
“That includes technology and the impact it is likely to have. There have been predictions about the number of jobs that will go with automation and AI. I don’t believe that. If history is right we can be relatively optimistic about more jobs and jobs at the high end.
“But it depends on the pace and adoption of the tech. It will be different in different countries. Places like Japan will be interested in robotics because they have an aging population.
“We may do it more slowly, and we have a preference for keeping people in work.
“But people will have to gain new skills and adapt.
“The areas that will thrive will be science, technology, personal care services, creativity and design, policing, teaching.
The decline will come in routine work and sectors like accountancy, law, retail, he suggests.
The sector facing arguably the most volatility is manufacturing.
Peter Marsh, author of the New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the End of Mass Production, thinks, however, new opportunities will be created – and with a distinctly human element.
He calls AI “machine learning” and said: “A big worry is it will do away with routine jobs, and I go along with that to some degree.
“For example: legal work and accountancy. If we have machines that can read text or take in other sensory information we could see these jobs disappear.
“Or jobs in scientific diagnosis, these will be most at risk.
“We can make the same leap in manufacturing, but a lot of the routine jobs have already gone or are in the process of disappearing. Manufacturing has already lost thousands of jobs in most developed countries.
“What’s left now, more and more, are the jobs where you require some sort of human empathy.
“For example, the most difficult jobs to fill are sales engineers, who have technical knowledge but can also talk to customers.
“You can’t replicate what these people do.
“New jobs will be in companies that are coming up with new ideas, like those merging bio technology and electronics. Dozens of companies are already into bio-electronics.
“This won’t create huge numbers of jobs, but it will create jobs that are worthwhile.
“The other growth area is service jobs. Think of the number of times you engage with someone and your experience is unsatisfactory, that will be alleviated by having better people.
“A huge demographic trend is that people are getting older, and they will need more help. The requirement for nurses and care assistants will increase. We won’t have machines that will adequately cater for it.
“Firms will have to recruit people with the skills or retrain them and retain them by making life within their companies more attractive for them.
“And it is a good idea to put the companies that are doing well on a pedestal.”