Bradford’s businesses formenting the 4th Industrial Revolution

What job will you be doing in ten years’ time? Perhaps something similar to your current role, but with more responsibilities and higher pay? What about in 20 years? Running your own business? Management? Or maybe retirement and a hard-earned rest?

One thing is certain – many of tomorrow’s jobs will be nothing like today’s. According to experts like Dr John Baruch, as many as 50 per cent of the jobs we currently do might have disappeared in two decades as robots perform more and more tasks.

Dr Baruch is a distinguished academic and leader in developing ways to educate people about changes in the workplace. His professional life has been spent in Yorkshire, at the universities of Leeds and Bradford and now at Leeds Beckett, where he helped set up the world’s first education centre for the fourth industrial revolution.  More of that in a minute. If you want to know how your grandchildren might be earning a crust, Dr Baruch is one to ask.

He was among the speakers at the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ event in Shipley’s magnificent Victoria Hall last week. The event was organised by the Bradford Business Enterprise Network to get people thinking about the fast-changing world in which we live, where the internet, robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming homes and workplaces. Representatives from RTC North, which helps commercialise new products and services, Cimlogic, a Saltaire provider of manufacturing improvement solutions, and Exa, the Bradford bespoke internet provider, also offered their perspectives.

In the Hall’s beautiful surroundings, Dr Baruch gave a short history lesson. We all know about the first industrial revolution, as horse power was replaced with mechanisms driven by steam power. In the second industrial age, steam power was replaced with electricity and combustion engines. As the third age progressed, computers and automation have transformed the world, with the internet bringing about change which seemed unimaginable 30 years ago. The fourth age – which is already dawning – sees cyber physical systems – mechanisms controlled by computers – become dominant in another leap forward.

What does this mean for Bradford? If you require an operation in 2040, you may be seeing a robot surgeon or doctor rather than a human, although you will probably still need a human nurse to assist you. Robot lawyers will solve our legal woes. I only hope that they won’t charge as much as real ones do now. AI will manage our financial transactions. Self-driving cars, buses and trucks will be on the roads.

For some people, change on this scale is worrying. Finding meaningful work for some can be difficult as it is. If more jobs disappear, what will people do to earn a living? I understand these concerns. But, like Dr Baruch, I am optimistic. Change on this scale will come quickly, but it won’t be overnight. Jobs will disappear, but new ones will be created. While robots will perform some of the roles that people do now, they can only do so much. They don’t have what makes us special – our creativity and ingenuity.

This is about ambition and optimism. It’s about embracing, rather than running from, change. The internet and technology bring huge opportunities for Bradford. But we need to seize them. Bradford has so many fantastic attributes: our young and enterprising population, our distinctive offer, our growth potential and our globally-connected district. Bradford is a diverse place and this is an advantage which we can build upon.

People of all ages need to be ready to retrain and adapt. We need to do all we can to support people in their 40s and 50s to make sure that they are ready to face this change with confidence.  The biggest challenge – which we should see more as an opportunity – is inspiring children to have a positive attitude through school, and to develop their creativity and appetite for technological innovation. They have the creativity and ideas; we need to give them the scientific knowledge to bring their ideas to life.

Bradford Council is working hard to support our young people. The Bradford Education Covenant is a plan to help schools and teachers raise standards; support parents to get children ready for school, work and life; and work with businesses and colleges to boost career options. Industrial Centres of Excellence (ICE) are helping people gain qualifications, skills and experience that employers want. Apprenticeship hubs help firms recruit the apprentices that they need.  

But it is the private sector which will play a central role in helping Bradford meet the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial age. The successful firms will be those which learn from the past, see the big picture of the here-and-now and get at the forefront of what comes next.  So if you are wondering what job you might be doing in 20 years, these are the people you should be asking. I look forward to hearing their ideas and seeing where it leads us.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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