Vibrant economy blog

Building an inclusive future of work for Leeds

Andy Wood Andy Wood

Leeds is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK,  however it also faces the challenge of ensuring that everyone in the city feels the benefit of that growth. 

And it’s one of the reasons why we convened a number of the city’s educators, entrepreneurs and business leaders to explore the topic of future of work in November.

We were lucky enough to be treated to a fantastic dinner from the catering students of Leeds City College. Guests included academics, an HR professional, local government representatives as well as a member of the future workforce in the form of a student from Leeds Beckett University.

The purpose of the dinner was to debate how we as a city could collaborate to make sure that our people and businesses seize the opportunities presented by the changing nature of the workplace.

The discussion was wide ranging and what struck me was the levels of energy and enthusiasm in the room.

Diversity will help fill the skills gap

We know that organisations thrive in a dynamic economy if they are able to innovate. In order to do that they need high performance teams. All agreed that to truly thrive, businesses must attract diverse teams who are able to carry on learning and adapting as internal and external demands evolve.

The many unknowns associated with the future of work demand recruitment strategies that identify a candidate’s potential and don’t just assess capabilities at time of interview. Key questions we as recruiters should be asking about candidates are: are they resilient? Are they curious?

Many around the table felt it was time to rip up the rule book when it comes to recruiting. “There are a lot of traditional recruitment models in place,” said Dan Statham, Partner. “People are being assessed on experience rather than potential.”

If we only recruit people who have the right qualifications and access to the right work-related experience – we’ll never truly make breakthroughs when it comes to diversity.

In technology we trust?

Many acknowledged that there was a lot we don’t yet know when it comes to the future of work. Technological advancements will continue to have an immense impact on how we work. While the threat of artificial intelligence replacing jobs in the city is genuine, people were keen to balance that fear with optimism about what technology could also enable people and organisations to do. The threat of disruption and job losses has been with us since the industrial revolution, it was argued – 'twas ever thus!

Amy De-Balsi, founder of Leeds based tech and digital recruiters Herd Careers is pragmatic: “Automation and disruption is inevitable – it’s going to happen, it’s always happened. People have always survived it and it’s nothing new, embrace it.”

Our own research* echoes that optimism. Businesses in our latest survey on mid-market growth ranked technology as the greatest accelerator to growth as well as the greatest barrier. 

A positive outlook and optimistic mind-set are essential to success in the future of work. “Automation could reduce the operating costs of the company through speed and accuracy, taking parts of human jobs out of it. But it could also create new activities and jobs,” said Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn, Director, Grant Thornton.

Tomorrow’s enterprise

Despite the inevitable gaps in our knowledge, guests agreed that what lies ahead is a workplace where people can make a difference and contribute positively to the world around them.

“A vibrant enterprise of tomorrow will involve a sense of meaning and purpose and will make an effort to learn from its people,” said Martin Wardhaugh, Group Chief Executive at ‎Arran Isle. 

According to the Big Innovation Centre, £130 billion additional corporate value could be created by putting ‘visionary purpose’ at the heart of British business.

And through our mid-market growth research we’ve found that company vision, culture and purpose is cited as a top-five investment priority by more than a third of mid-market businesses; and over a quarter of mid-market leaders regard achieving their purpose as an important measure of growth.

We will adapt

We should have faith in the next generation’s ability to adapt to new ways of working and make them a success. “Young people moving into these organisations are going to be able to change these businesses in a really positive way,” said Amy De Balsi.

*The findings are part of a comprehensive research programme by Grant Thornton looking at what mid-market companies are doing to overcome barriers, drive through growth ceilings and leverage accelerators to grow. The main report and results will launch in early 2018.


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