Political and technological change are likely to transform London’s economy in coming years. Businesses are already responding to these changes, and the economy as a whole is well-positioned to respond. But policy makers will need to focus on skills and automation, to avoid lower-skilled workers being marginalised by change.
While automation may affect more middle-class administrative and associate professional occupations, the workers likely to be most negatively affected are those in the lowest-paid, lowest-skilled and most precarious jobs. High qualification profiles in London should help ensure adaptability, but the previous discussion of skills levels indicates that further attention should be paid to cognitive skills and ways of learning, as well as to academic attainment.
A new focus on cognitive skills, creative problem solving and social skills will be required to enable Londoners to benefit from the advantages offered as London’s economy changes.
Improvements in the education and skills system will enable London to capture opportunities arising from automation and mitigate difficulties stemming from tighter controls on international migration.
As cognitive skills have been shown to be particularly associated with economic growth, the question remains: what enables a country or city to develop a high cognitive skills base? Research indicates that one factor distinguishing high-performing countries in international school education studies is the recruitment of top graduates into the teaching profession. In Singapore, Korea and Finland teachers are recruited from the top one-third of graduates measured by performance. In the UK, however, with a formidable teacher shortage looming, especially in outer London, recruiting top graduates into the profession appears to be a particular challenge.
Productivity may continue to grow but its fruits may not be shared widely, particularly with workers who struggle to adapt to changing economic circumstances. Therefore, in the longer term, more radical solutions may need to be debated and considered. These might include rethinking the working week or providing a universal basic income for a world where automation leads to lower employment levels.
As many economic sectors in London are highly dependent on immigration, positive immigration strategies will be critical in helping London attract and retain the skills necessary to capitalise on the opportunities unlocked by technological change.
Besides labour costs and management practices, regulation is one of the major factors determining the scope and extent of adoption of technology by businesses. In sectors such as transport, debates about the extent to which public authorities should seek to constrain growth of new technology-enabled services are already intense.
Setting out a clear framework for regulation of innovative sectors that intelligently balances the interests of innovators, consumers and workers will be essential if London is to be at the forefront of innovation – and the economic and employment growth that this unlocks.
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