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“It’s robots, not immigrants, that are stealing jobs – act now”

Gi Fernando is founder of digital transformation and social impact company Freeformers, as well as an engineer and investor in companies such as TechWillSaveUs

A week on from Brexit, one thing is now clear… if we as  business people, influencers, digital entrepreneurs and startups don’t connect with the 52 per cent, then our lives and our beliefs will become even more polarised.

Technology can and does bring people together but we have so far failed in our task to spread that feeling UK-wide. Huge parts of the country do not feel connected, not even to the startup and digital bubbles within their own towns.

What lies at the heart of all of this is fear. Among a large majority of the 52 per cent, there are fears about jobs and the future; not least about how technology and globalisation is making them feel they are being left behind.

There is no trust in politicians or experts, both of which had been the definition of ‘good’ within our education system. But this is not really the future of what ‘good’ looks like and it is not how we connect with those in the 52 per cent who feel more disconnected than ever.

We cannot continue to be the people sitting in the back of the Uber they are driving.

When trust is eroded, inequality rises further. But we face another big challenge on the horizon.

Robots and AI

Increasing automation, along with advances in robotics and AI, will have an even greater impact on the future of work than immigration has ever had to date.

It will take away more jobs and many of these roles will undoubtedly be lost in parts of the UK where people voted in the majority to leave the EU.

Ultimately, we can either have a human do a bad robot job or a robot do a good robot job. And it’s not hard to see what the economic reality would be.

But technology must not become the next reason for splitting society even more widely. Now is the time to think long-term about talent.

We’ve been saying it for years but education must change fast to embed digital skills and thinking throughout all age groups, sexes and geographical location.

We need a new digital revolution built on streamed knowledge, not knowledge storing, allow everyone to learn throughout life, reinvent themselves and their roles within the future of work.

Reskill now

We must put an emphasis on incumbent businesses to upskill people from depressed communities. We need to start to build reskilling initiatives right now for areas with jobs that are likely to be changed or replaced with technology.

We must make sure initiatives are led by similar people to the communities they represent to encourage engagement, advocacy and interest. These people know what problems they have and we have the ability to help them find the solutions by encouraging them to create new technology, apps, networks or digital businesses to further a common social impact within their own areas.

Government, skills providers and corporate partners, can work together on this. That also means involving universities and libraries who have free space up for grabs.

At Freeformers, we see real-life examples among the diverse young people we train in digital skills for free as part of our one_for1 initiative, which sees one 16 to 25-year-old helped for every executive we get skilled up on digital.

They have changed their own lives, from tough beginnings (some living on the streets) to finding careers they love, ones they never believed were open to them, and some have gone on to train top FTSE CEOs in digital too.

For car workers in Sunderland, for example, we could start localised initiatives around future of work skills to get ahead of some of the changes that are coming.

Digital technology can and should lead this agenda.

People not platforms

Social media can still bring people and communities together, rather than divide. The internet can foster teaching and learning even when people are hundreds of miles apart. And digital can inspire the creative thinking and doing that robots, AI or VR cannot.

We must put investment into focusing on the people side of the puzzle. This is often overlooked in favour of just creating new tech platform, but the human influence is key to countering the ‘unleashed beast’.

My friend Baroness Beeban Kidron said at the recent Freeformers’ Future of Work event: “We should all be creatives and extend the idea of what being creative is in jobs and in business. Anything [work] that is just repeated is at threat from automation.”

As digital natives and digital leaders, we must ensure the future is not defined by the 48 per cent or the 52 per cent – but by 100 per cent of people committed to adopting technology for a successful future in the globalised connected world.

As the technology industry, we must move from a narrative based not just on unicorns but also far more heavily towards the large disconnected majority – who are the future of work, future customers and the future of the UK.

It’s not going to be easy, but working better alongside robots, doing the human things they can’t, is the clearest and safest way forward. For now.