Ofcom Boss, Sharon White On AI And The Future

21 March 2018

 

This article is a part of our Skills Young People Need for Work in 2030 campaign, with the i newspaper, helping share what skills leaders of today think are going to be the top ways young people can prepare for the careers of tomorrow. Be sure to follow #Skills2030 to see their top advice over March.

AI is not going to sweep away critical inter-personal skills

Some people argue as established fact that robotics and artificial intelligence will lead to a profound change in the world of work for today’s young people. That thousands of jobs will be swept away – not just routine work but highly skilled jobs like keyhole surgery. I have heard business chiefs suggest that thousands of employees will need to be retrained today in anticipation of a much greater use of robotics in five years’ time. This vision of the future may or may not come to pass. Even if it does, we have seen previous revolutions in the workplace – industrialisation in the 19th century, the ubiquity of computers in the 20th century. While these fundamentally changed the nature of work, they created new opportunities too.  My experience is that many of the skills that are crucial to success at work cannot be replicated by a robot.

First, the ability to work in teams. The best ideas come from bringing together people with different points of view to thrash out a solution to a problem. That requires the ability to listen, to find points of agreement, and to appreciate cultural sensitivities.  Second, the ability to communicate ideas persuasively. I have known brilliant people who struggled to make themselves understood. Equally, I have seen people who were perhaps less original in their thinking but ultimately more successful because they could make their argument in a cogent and compelling way to people who needed convincing.  Third, having the personal drive to get things done. Whatever the job, there are always challenges.

In the work I do, these typically concern things like – how do you satisfy yourself that you have enough evidence to take a decision; how do you choose between options that are finely balanced; how do you get people on side who have very different perspectives on an issue – and who may take you to court if they don’t like your decision. Navigating through this takes a certain amount of personal resilience and relentless focus on achieving a result.  So how might young people develop these skills?

The best help is work experience. All experience is valuable, whether that is volunteering in a residential care home for older people or spending a week with a Chief Executive of a big company that you might want to work in one day. It teaches young people how to develop good relationships in the workplace, overcome obstacles and get things done. Every business and organisation I have worked in or would fall over backwards to offer a work placement.  Also important is developing speaking and writing skills. This could be by contributing to a school newspaper or presenting to class instead of producing written homework. It could mean setting up a lunchtime club on a topic of interest that attracts strong views and debate between students, like a Feminist Society or a Philosophy and Religion Club. Finally, I would emphasise getting involved in a team. This could be a school sports team, where young people have to pull together as a single unit to win.

The best help is work experience. All experience is valuable, whether that is volunteering in a residential care home for older people or spending a week with a Chief Executive of a big company that you might want to work in one day. It teaches young people how to develop good relationships in the workplace, overcome obstacles and get things done. Every business and organisation I have worked in or would fall over backwards to offer a work placement.  Also important is developing speaking and writing skills. This could be by contributing to a school newspaper or presenting to class instead of producing written homework. It could mean setting up a lunchtime club on a topic of interest that attracts strong views and debate between students, like a Feminist Society or a Philosophy and Religion Club. Finally, I would emphasise getting involved in a team. This could be a school sports team, where young people have to pull together as a single unit to win.

I am very conscious that these opportunities are less widely available to young people educated in state schools. They and their teachers generally do not have the same networks as their private school counterparts. I went to a state school myself and in all my time at school we had only one external speaker, a local councillor, who was not particularly inspiring. Nor did we have the best of careers services. It’s why I am such a passionate supporter of Speakers in Schools. It’s a brilliant way of levelling the playing field between state and private schools.

Sharon White is Chief Executive Officer of Ofcom.

You can read this article on the i newspaper’s website here

Our Skills 2030 campaign will continue with more speakers across the UK. Keep up with the coverage of this talk series here.