Liz McAreavey: A bright future is there for the taking

Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber Of Commerce. Picture: Scott Louden
Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber Of Commerce. Picture: Scott Louden
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Revolutions – be they industrial, cultural or political – bring change to the way our world works. It’s the nature of the beast. And in recent decades, the rapid pace of change brought by the ever-active digital revolution has certainly moved business from evolution to revolution pace.

But that’s not to say we should be passive. The successful economies will be those prepared to plan for, and embrace, change. So what changes are coming and how do we plan for them, harness the opportunity and proactively shape this new world order?

We need a clear Industrial Strategy to support the start-up and progression of businesses and commercialise the world-leading innovation we have in Scotland.

Innovative, technology-savvy businesses will create new jobs with skills required in coding, communication, programming and many soft skills which are essential for growth. Such jobs will flow from data-driven innovation from our universities – world leaders in artificial intelligence, robotics and informatics.

Our education sector must respond to this pace, not just by equipping young people with the skills needed for our future economy right now, but by promoting lifelong learning to ensure everyone has the opportunity to progress and contribute in the changing decades to come.

City of Edinburgh Council’s “Edinburgh By Numbers 2017” predicts that the 30-49 age bracket will see the largest growth in Edinburgh by 2039 (rising from 148,000 to 167,700). While hard to imagine in 2017, in just over 20 years the bulk of Edinburgh’s population – and workforce – will be those our education sector is catering to right now. It’s imperative that we ensure a learning culture is instilled in our young people today. Millennials aren’t looking for a job for life; they will have many careers and will develop transferable skills to support this.

This is a game-changer for Scotland. As an entrepreneurial base driven by innovation, we can create an unrivalled, forward-thinking workforce, providing equal opportunities for all and shaping the new world economic model.

It’s even more vital because at present Edinburgh has what is called a “dromedary economy” – the double hump curve that tracks earnings to jobs. This means we have people in low-paid jobs and people in high-paid jobs, with an unfortunate dip in the middle which shows a lack of mid salary jobs.

It’s nigh on impossible to progress along the curve from low to high earnings because at each end, there are distinct sectors and skills which are currently disconnected.

This results in many bright and capable individuals becoming disenfranchised and trapped in jobs with no prospect of progression – and in turn, our young and talented minds have no option but to look elsewhere for opportunities.

This double hump economy is certainly hindering equality and will not lead to an inclusive economy that promotes fair opportunities. However, business and profit should not be seen to drive a wedge between rich and poor, as profitable business does drive economic growth and in turn creates jobs and wider opportunities.

We’ve already shown the world we can be leaders in arts, culture and heritage. We have the innovation in our universities and the expertise in our business community. Now we need leadership and a plan, and the business community must step up to the plate to drive this. It’s there for the taking.

Liz McAreavey is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce