Toby Parkins

Director and Co-Founder

Toby was an agile practitioner talking to a product owner from a global corporation at a barbecue when the Headforwards concept began to develop. Having started out on the internet in the early 90s, Toby founded UKNetWeb, a web development company and knew that he could deliver a better outsource software company. Toby and Craig co-founded Headforwards in 2011. Toby is also the founder of Agile on the Beach, President of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and a Director of Software Cornwall.

There are a whole host of articles suggesting that Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the automation of existing systems will gradually start replacing jobs in the UK. 

‘AI will take 20% of all jobs within five YEARS,’ expert warns
Daily Mail, 20th January 2023

Often, this is articulated in a way that suggests people won’t be able to work, because there won’t be enough jobs to go around. 

While it’s true that many current job roles won’t exist in the future, there’s also much research out there to suggest that a general decline in certain roles will coincide with a general increase in new roles. 

One needs only think back to a time when banking clerks began to disappear from behind the glass, to see the evolution of roles; machines took over from humans, processing cash and cheques, but new customer service representatives were on hand to support confused members of the public. More broadly, demand for digital customer services representatives increased, and a whole host of specific jobs were created to service the new systems.

An evolutionary process will occur over the course of decades, and each year there will be small changes; we won’t suddenly go from a state of everyone being employed, to everyone being unemployed. Young people leaving school this year will have careers that evolve through two or three different job roles not yet invented. 

The rise in automated systems presents a huge opportunity for businesses across all sectors to make tech jobs more accessible.

Thinking ahead

Clearly, technology has a huge role to play in the evolution of systems and processes. However, the sector is often seen as being rather discrete and isolated: certain companies are technology companies, the rest aren’t, end of story. 

Of course, the reality is that companies (that are growing) across all sectors incorporate technology into them, and will be responsible for creating many of the new jobs slowly being invented. 

The businesses that think about the future and plan for it, will be the ones that succeed. 

The most noticeable thing to happen over the medium to long term will be that people adopt new skills and learn new things. This is the opportunity that we’re looking to address with the FibrePark project and our digital academy.

By offering multiple learning pathways, people with different educational backgrounds, experiences and knowledge areas can progress in technology – without the need for an A Level in Maths, or other traditional accreditations.

In order for the population to really benefit from the changing world of tech, we need a diverse workforce with a diverse range of experiences. New knowledge in emerging technologies will lead to the highest possible proportion of individuals either finding new opportunities within their existing sectors, or transferring their knowledge and new digital technology skills into other sectors.

Most of the big technology providers (as well as open-source technologies) are already creating new learning pathways, providing people with opportunities to learn specific technologies within the software space and in the areas of data, AI, and cyber. 

Many of the courses and learning pathways on offer are delivered via online learning and supported self-directed learning. Some might only take a few hours, some might take several days, and they can be completed during spare time. This presents a huge opportunity for the whole workforce to progress in the coming years.

From an individuals’ perspective, learning these new skills can help with securing jobs. Often, the roles on offer can deliver more value to businesses, and therefore the likelihood of gaining a salary increase is high. 

Shaking things up

There is great opportunity here for turning the current system on its head – combating skills shortages and transforming the UK economy through innovative learning pathways. 

From an economy perspective, one of the challenges that we have in the UK is low productivity compared to other countries. However, as a country, we’ve been focusing on nurturing a knowledge economy. 

The route to increasing economic growth in knowledge-based industries is to either employ more people, or pay higher salaries. If we don’t, we end up having to do both of those things, and that has a significant impact economically on the country fiscally, through increased taxation revenue. 

By creating multiple learning pathways that are accessible to all, the country’s economic output will improve, and we will see not only productivity growth progress, but individuals ultimately enhancing their earning potential.

Throw out the rule book

‘Rather than fearing the rise of the machines (automation and AI), organizations would do well to embrace them as more than just a tool to support productivity.’
McKinsey, 2022

What’s important here is that we take an open-minded approach to what purpose education serves – not just what people learn, but how people learn it.  

Undoubtedly, we will continue to have what we might consider traditional educational routes at colleges and universities: BTECs, HNDs, degrees etc, but in addition to that, we are seeing huge growth in the areas of accredited industry training courses. 

Just how successful this whole process is will be determined by how diversely and innovatively we approach a very wide range of skills development and an even wider range of learning pathways. 

It’s vital we try and break from the rule book and ensure people can learn new skills flexibly and cost effectively, so that time and money are not barriers to anyone. 

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