At the Commonwealth Business Forum opening in London on Monday, followed by the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Michael Sippitt, Chairman of Clarkslegal and the Commonwealth Environmental Platform, and a director of the HR consultancy Forbury People Ltd, will be speaking on a panel regarding the Future of Work in the 21st Century.
Michael is focusing especially on the impact of technology on developing countries of the Commonwealth and on the growth of global trade.
The Commonwealth offers exceptional scope for UK to engage with emerging markets in the development of trade facilitated by the arrival of digitalisation that reduces bureaucratic barriers to trade and brings down costs.
The challenge is how to collaborate effectively to bring on digital capabilities in those Commonwealth countries that are not yet in a position to participate fully in a digital economy. This is a fantastic opportunity for the UK and other Commonwealth developed countries to share city expertise and financial innovation to build stronger overseas markets as the digital door opens to easier trade flows. Trade agreements alone are not enough, there also has to be capability to apply innovative technologies to enable competitive trade.
It is perhaps going to prove over the next few years that predicted economic ill effects of Brexit on the UK are balanced or outweighed by technology developments that significantly improve global trade. But it will need some hard work.
Current research shows that there is the serious danger of a digital divide, creating ever greater inequality in trade opportunities, based on whether the Commonwealth nation has the required infrastructure and capabilities to fully use new technologies. It is said that 3.9 billion people in the world do not yet even have internet access, so infrastructure is vital to effective trade.
There is a limited window of opportunity, perhaps two or three decades at most but in many instances much less, for developed and developing countries to plan for the greatest predicted impact of automation on existing jobs, especially low skilled and low paid work in manufacturing.
The task is huge but can be addressed by maximum collaboration between Commonwealth nations and businesses, planning for education and skills training for the next generation of workers who will need different types of work than are available today. Also the transition will need positive strategies for industrialisation where it has not really yet been successfully established, which is then a base for automation enhancing productivity and potentially creating more jobs.
A key factor in all countries will be growth of small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) which creates work and helps diversity economies, adding resilience against the technology revolution that may overwhelm millions of poorer workers whose jobs may vanish into robotic factories nearer the target market.
The challenge of providing meaningful employment with a decent income will not be met without extraordinary engagement of both governments and major enterprises whose resources and technical skills need to be shared and taught to help build economies in markets that will become a bigger part of UK trade volumes in coming decades.
Thus the key message Michael will be sharing is that the future of work is inevitably bound up with successful trade, related sustainable investment in infrastructure, and corporate willingness to be part of the solution out of both ethical motivation and obvious self-interest to help build bigger markets to trade with in the digital economy.