Skip to main content


Don't fear automation, it is something that could bring about better jobs

13/01/2022 Think Piece
Don't fear automation, it is something that could bring about better jobs

Rich Kenny, Group IT Director for Harrogate-based Techbuyer, and Managing Director of sister company Interact, discusses the challenges and opportunities technology brings to the jobs market in York and North Yorkshire.

Technology is changing at an incredible pace. Manufacturing is beginning to use Data Analytics and Cloud Computing to lower costs, reduce downtime and minimise waste. In retail, shoppers will soon be able to turn to ‘just-walk-out’ technology rather than the traditional checkout. However, this automation will also reduce the need for workers in the future. What will the jobs of tomorrow look like? What are the challenges and opportunities for our region and how is our skills system adapting to ensure our current and future workforce stays ahead of the curve? These are important questions and I’m glad to see they are the focus for the online York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Skills Conference on Wednesday 19 January.

I believe people think that automation is going to be the death knell for many jobs. I think it’s actually the death knell for lots of unfulfilling jobs – jobs that don’t involve people growing, progressing or learning. The sort of things that can be automated, in my view, should be automated. There is an opportunity for businesses to become more profitable in these basic tasks and train the workforce to do different jobs that are hopefully more meaningful and offer progression and relatability.

I’ve been involved with work at schools to show what the jobs of the future could be. One pathway, called ‘Better Jobs for a Better Future’, is all about aligning pupils’ expectations with what sort of jobs businesses require in the future and introducing the idea that jobs can be for passion and not just for profit. We’re talking about the sustainable triple bottom line: people, profit and planet. I believe that’s where the jobs of tomorrow are – work that can have a social, sustainable or environmental impact. That’s particularly important in York & North Yorkshire, which has ambitions to be the UK’s first carbon-negative region by 2040.

I also think we will see a vast swathe of people become self-employed in a way that wasn’t traditionally available. There are so many ways to earn a living now, and that gives people the flexibility of working multiple jobs that can achieve different impacts, and within a framework which suits their home life. Covid has accelerated this, as remote working has removed geographic barriers to connecting people to work. That plays well for a vast, rural area such as North Yorkshire which doesn’t have the transport links other parts of the country have.

The labour market is also shifting. It spans from perhaps more tech-savvy youngsters starting their careers, to older generations with incredible experience and workplace skills. Both are still in the labour market and looking for the same job. However, it would be wrong, in my view, to solely concentrate on younger people.  If the business community is unwilling to retrain the older population, we are going to lose out on a massive amount of ability. Education is about learning to learn new concepts, new technologies, new methods, and that can be applied across all ages.

I’ve been on the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Skills & Employability Board for just over a year and it’s wonderful to be part of a broad group of people working to address issues such as these.  Research has been commissioned to look at the fourth industrial revolution and what that means for York & North Yorkshire. There will be a preview of that at the YNY LEP Skills Conference, as well as further debate around some of these big questions for the area. I would recommend anyone with an interest in how technology is reshaping the jobs market to visit the YNY LEP website to register for the conference on 19 January, which runs from 9am to 11am.

As we look ahead, I think the key for businesses is to understand what we want to get from new technologies, not just presuming every piece of new technology will solve a problem. We should be seeing automation as a competitor that makes us better, not something that is replacing us.

From an article originally published by the Yorkshire Post, 13 January 2022.

Back to news