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THE future is already here. Beyond the automation of routine and repetitive tasks is a revolution in work ushered in by artificial intelligence. The Channel Islands’ workforce needs to get up to speed or risks being left behind.

PWC - Guernsey (28901202)

New PwC analysis reveals that around 30% of jobs in Jersey and Guernsey will disappear between now and 2035. While this might seem like a distant prospect to be put off until later, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the employment and employability crunch much closer.

If we don’t take decisive action now, the jobs that were furloughed or lost in the downturn may never come back. Roles that were at risk of automation in ten to 15 years’ time could disappear much sooner, as restructuring and cost-saving accelerate in the wake of the pandemic. This could create social divisions as the young and those in low-tech/low-paid jobs are the most likely to get left behind. A PwC report – Will robots steal our jobs? – indicates that financial services is the industry most likely to be affected by an initial wave of algorithmic automation over the next few years. Given the reliance on this industry across the islands, this is worrying.

Yet there is an upside. Technology change will potentially create as many new jobs as it replaces. Nearly three-quarters of the business leaders in PwC’s 2020 Global CEO Survey said lack of key skills was a major threat. And over 40% of those CEOs are digitally upskilling their staff to fill gaps and are seeing benefits in productivity and innovation as a result. A PwC report specifically on financial services organisations revealed the biggest barrier to digitisation was not technology, process or data but people.

Source: 'PwC New World New Skills: Upskilling the Channel Islands workforce for a digital world', July 2020

How do we digitally upskill people at speed?

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the flexibility, agility and joined-up community approach that our islands have in abundance. These strengths could now be deployed to quickly identify tomorrow’s skill needs and begin the task of upskilling to future-proof our workforce.

Digital upskilling is about giving people the opportunity to gain the knowledge, tools and abilities they need to use and understand ever-changing technologies in their daily lives. Not everyone has to learn to code, but many will need to understand and manage AI, data analytics and other tech that can’t even be predicted yet. Learning how to think, act and thrive in a digital world in a way that is sustainable over time must be our goal.

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A community-wide upskilling effort across government, business and education could secure the economic future of our islands. Other jurisdictions are beginning to pull ahead – Luxembourg and Singapore are two examples where government and business collaboration on upskilling is already under way. PwC estimates that the cost of upskilling an employee is six times lower than the ultimate cost of a person losing their job, having a period out of work before having to retrain and then re-entering the workforce.

What could digital upskilling look like for Jersey and Guernsey

We recognise that there have already been some positive efforts made towards digital upskilling with some excellent initiatives from Digital Jersey partnering with business, and Digital Greenhouse in Guernsey. However, we now urgently need to ramp up both the scale and pace of change, bringing more parties together into a community-wide effort. Jersey's newly launched Fiscal Stimulus Fund's focus on skills and training is one example of an opportunity to be seized. We need to:

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1) Combine efforts across stakeholder groups – working on a pan-Channel Island basis would accelerate efforts more quickly and save costs.

2) Determine what future skills will be needed – cultural change as well as specific tech training.

3) Identify the sectors, jobs and individuals most at risk and who needs to be upskilled.

4) Intensive training programmes to create new and transferable skills that motivate, inspire and boost the economy.

We believe digital upskilling is an opportunity for the Channel Islands to ‘build back better’, reinforce our position as a talent hub and get ahead of the pack internationally. But if we fall behind, we could see jobs and investment switching to jurisdictions where talent is seen as more innovative and tech-savvy. The time for action is now.

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