The Future Works Summit: Q&A with Keynote Speaker, Charles Leadbeater

Sep 25th, 2019

q&a with charles leadbeater keynote speaker for the future works summit


Ahead of our inaugural national summit, The Future Works, we asked keynote speaker Charles Leadbeater to share his thoughts on his presentation at the event. Adviser to leading European companies, Charles is a world-renowned innovation and creativity expert whose work focuses on future strategies for more networked and personalised approaches to learning in today’s technological world.


How does the term ‘innovation’ best apply to today’s workforce?

In three ways. First, the capacity to innovate, to solve complex problems in teams, is a critical capacity for skilled workers. Good work in future will depend on complex problem solving. Second, because there are important innovations going on in how we work the idea that work meant a job as an employee doing broadly the same thing for many years is breaking down. The line between employment, self-employment and entrepreneurship is breaking down. Third, as a result, workers need new kinds of support to help them find security in a world of flexibility and volatility. Unfortunately, that is where we need social innovation, which as yet we have not had enough of.


What prevents companies from innovating effectively in relation to their workforce?

What inhibits innovation, in general, is conservatism and complacency. Powerful innovations tend to be driven by a purpose and to be systems, not just standalone services. Perhaps that’s what companies need more of, to innovate in relation to work.


How can business owners begin to bring innovative thinking and learning into their workforce?

Innovation is like swimming. There’s only so much you can do on the side of the pool. Being inquisitive about what inspiring organisation are doing (and not just companies, but within sports, music, education) can help. Trusting in your people to come up with good solutions themselves also helps.


What aspects of digital technology offers the most growth for workforce development?

Digital technology helps in all sorts of ways, but technology is only as good as the purpose it serves. Technology can help connect people in new ways to find knowledge and solutions and increasingly to collaborate. It can also eliminate quite a lot of bureaucracy by allowing more self-service. The danger is that technology is good for organising what I call “thin” work: relatively specific transactions and tasks. The most valuable work is “thick” work: it depends on relationships and cooperation to solve complex challenges. What’s going to be exciting and interesting in future is to see how AI is used – will it thin work out by replacing people with robots or will it help to thicken it by creating new ways for people to cope with machines.


What policy changes could be adopted to ensure that future skills are catered for?

There’s a raft of things we need to think about. How well does education prepare young people for life in a world where all the instruction manuals are being torn up? How well do training systems help people shift their skills and identity with changing demand and technology? How can we provide the right mix of flexibility and security that workers need? All of these are important questions. The most important point though is that we need to think at the level of the whole system. A whole set of institutions and policies grew up around the idea of work = a job = a wage. If that’s shifting then we need to reimagine the infrastructure to support modern workers with training, job search, job creation, security and risk sharing.


21st Century Skills is an often-used, but misunderstood term. What does it mean to you?

The most important thing is to equip people with the hard and soft skills so they can act with purpose to make a difference to their world. Too often education seems to be equipping us to be ‘not very good robots doing repetitive tasks diligently’. Instead, education needs to equip people to be collaborative problem solvers, to find, frame and solve complex challenges together.


The education system and workforce are inexorably linked. What changes are needed in education to ensure that the workforce of tomorrow is fully prepared?

I think education should be designed to give people a sense of agency to make a difference rather than to be passive bystanders waiting to see what comes along.


To what extent is the future world of work dependent on technology and technological advancements?

A lot, but technology is complex. It can eliminate jobs, create them, enrich them. The impact in part depends on choices we make and the outcomes we seek. It’s not a foregone conclusion. And technology is just one among many factors to take into account. Climate change, urbanisation, ageing and gender will all have a big impact. The future is more open, complex and interesting than the doom-mongers think.


About The Future Works – Skillnet Ireland National Summit

Advances in technology, changing demographics, and a multitude of competitive and geopolitical forces are constantly changing the landscape of work on a national and global level. The Future Works, Skillnet Ireland’s inaugural National Summit, brings you renowned international keynote speakers and insightful industry panel discussions, focusing on the key factors shaping Ireland’s workforce and the future world of work.

Discover more about our summit at 

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