The way we work, future job roles and required skills are changing exponentially due to digital transformation. It’s disrupting almost every industry and impacting on systems of production, management and governance, with the end promise of improved productivity, increased efficiency and, ultimately, higher profits.

New technologies are changing consumer behaviours and forcing b2b and b2c companies to adapt the way they design, market and deliver products and services in order to continue to grow, meet demand and beat competition.

Needing to adapt is nothing new for businesses. But this peak in new technology – from artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics, to the Internet of Things, mobile device connectivity and quantum computing – could certainly instil fear into many.  The sobering reality is that while technological development is moving faster than ever before, this is simultaneously the slowest it is ever going to be.

For this reason, the Sheffield City Region Chambers work to ensure businesses talk to each other – to know what each other is doing, what’s out there and to share best practice – one company’s problem, is another’s opportunity.

I recently visited a member business providing drone training to the rail sector which is increasingly using the flying cameras to investigate the inside of tunnels when it’s too unsafe for their workforce to enter. Another is working with local authorities to link up the city’s buildings to gain big data, enabling them to monitor energy and service efficiency and adapt accordingly to make cost savings.

There is, of course, the worry that as automation substitutes for labour across all professions, unemployment could rise, with low and medium skilled jobs most at risk.  This should concern all of us who care about our places and are committed to delivering genuinely inclusive growth for their communities.

I’d strongly argue that we must be seeking not to reduce jobs, but to change job types. There will be a need for upskilling to programme the technology, number crunch the big data, and strategise for continuing growth. This in turn will raise income levels, improve the quality of life and boost the local economy.

Businesses already tell us they can’t fill jobs because of skills shortage and an aging workforce means there is already a huge need to reskill to meet not only new job opportunities but new ways of doing business.

The Department for Education recently approved the opening of a new UTC in Doncaster in 2020 to deliver STEM skills and meet the needs of the local economy. Doncaster Chamber campaigned, and the private sector lobbied for its approval due to the need for a career-ready workforce.

The region’s Chambers all provide courses and workshops for members to share best practice and skills. In addition, we also run the Doncaster Skills Academy to help bridge the gap between business and education. The Chamber’s education team organise work placements, industry visits, and mentoring support to raise the aspirations of young people to be career-ready for working in the region’s diverse and exciting industries.

All firms, no matter their age, size or sector, need to be a part of this digital transformation in order to meet challenges – now and in the future.

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