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Video transcript: Kevin Ellis speech

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Building Public Trust Awards 2021

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Samira Ahmed, British journalist, writer and broadcaster:

It has been a time when leadership has never been more important, and the person who has led the firm through it is Kevin Ellis, PwC UK Chairman and Senior Partner.

So, as we enter the post pandemic world, who better to tell us about leadership and building trust in an uncertain and changing world?

Please welcome, Kevin Ellis.

Kevin Ellis, Chairman and Senior Partner, PwC:

My lords, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 19th Building Public Trust Awards. We booked this back in February and it felt a bit ‘punchy’ to book an event like that then but walking around this evening in the pre-dinner drinks and being in the room now, I am really pleased. It feels like another step along the long road back to normality.

It has been a long road, hasn’t it? About 20 months and the theme of this evening – public trust – really has not left the front page in whatever country of the world you have been in, whether it has been navigating lockdowns or vaccinations and, certainly in the UK over recent weeks, it has been shortages. That structural imbalance in the workforce, with facts we never knew before like the average age of a butcher is 56 or the average age of a lorry driver, 53 – who knew that? We know now.

For anyone that was here two years ago when we were able to have this event the last time, it was that imbalance we discussed then, with regard to the fourth industrial revolution and that was around the fact that the industrial revolution was going to cause – through technology and automation – a loss of about 30% of the jobs and those jobs will be the lower paid jobs in society, the people for whom the most impact would be felt. We said at the time that our survey said that those 30% of jobs that will be lost will also be replaced. Interestingly, there was a report last summer from the World Economic Forum that said globally, automation and technology would replace 85 million jobs but actually the same automation and technology would create 97 million jobs but, of course, employees cannot walk from one job to the other without reskilling and support and that comes down to business, that comes down to educationalists, that comes down to the people in this room and wider.

I think the last 20 months has taught us one thing: remote working, technology has required us all to learn more, understand it more and use it more on our own. I know that personally, when we sent everyone home, my computer worked – thank goodness – but also, we could become more location agnostic, so the fluidity of that transfer of jobs in the fourth industrial revolution has probably gone easier than we feared. My concern and our concern is that there is a bigger disruption coming and that will be front page news next month when we all start talking about COP 26 and that disruption as you decarbonise the world with the promises that are being made and that have to be made for our future. That decarbonisation will result in jobs being lost in the so-called ‘sunset industries,’ the industries that are high carbon, which by their very nature are clustered around certain parts of the UK and therefore the shift of jobs to the greener jobs – the ‘sunrise jobs’ – will be much harder.

That, I think, is going to be a bigger challenge in a way and the impact could be greater. It could be akin to – for those of us that are old enough – the 1980s when the coal mines shut down, when the old British manufacturing – the high employment manufacturing – disappeared and areas were left behind, regional disparity was the norm and public trust went to an all-time low. At the time, again, for anyone old enough, the political answer in the words of Norman Tebbit, who was my MP at the time, was ‘Get on your bike.’ It did not work then, and I do not think it will work now.

Actually, we at PwC have got quite an interesting insight into that because we have 20 offices across the UK and in 2019, we opened a new office in Bradford. The reason we opened an office in Bradford was our outreach programmes to schools identified Bradford as one of the coldest areas in the UK in terms of jobs, but also, interestingly, our nearest office in Leeds, which is only 20 minutes away by public transport, very rarely was getting people moving from Bradford to Leeds, so we set an office up in Bradford. It was successful and actually, in the last two and a half years, it has trebled in size and the insight from the people that work for us in Bradford, their CVs are amongst the best in the UK, but the insight was if you come from a lower socioeconomic class, you do not know about jobs 20 minutes away that might exist. You do not have the cash flow to get on the train in the first place, nor do you have the confidence to go outside your postcode looking for work. So unless you create the ecosystem there, then that aspiration is switched off, that disparity occurs, and people are left behind again.

That will be the challenge. Without intervention, that challenge is coming at us, but to have an intervention, you need insight, so we have commissioned a review of where those sunset jobs will exist and where those sunrise jobs will occur to get the insight for that intervention and that report will be published next month at the time of COP 26. I can give you a few insights we have already seen in that report that I think are of interest. On the positive side, there are more green jobs and actual CVs for those green jobs out there across the UK than probably we had expected. That is positive. Secondly, the survey of the employees was that employers have moved further towards the green economy than probably again was expected and examples of that that were thrown in were things like recycling but also things like green investment, pension fund investment in green areas, was going on and, as a result, that in itself will create more jobs in that green space.

The third area, around the availability of retraining and reskilling, was significant. It was around three areas that we are seeing a higher opportunity to retrain and reskill. They were scientists, technologists and professional services. Obviously, by their very nature, probably not the group that are going to lose their jobs with the decarbonisation, and that is held out again by the survey that said those people employed in the extraction industries, the quarrying, saw no future for their jobs in three years’ time and saw no opportunity for reskilling nor any communication about such reskilling.

In conclusion, you have a challenge coming at the economy that is the right challenge. We do have to decarbonise. To avoid, if you like, what we know from the past, it will require intervention and it will require insight. That can only happen through business – business is the only party that really can create the jobs, create the ecosystem that creates the opportunities, but business cannot do it alone – businesses can only do it with the collaboration of local government, national government and educationalists. If that happens, the one thing that is certain at the moment, that most CEOs say is the big problem, the big challenge, is talent. Bringing together the opportunity to create talent with the opportunity to change opportunity with that collaboration is what we have to hope for and with that comes trust in society. Thank you very much.

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Alan McGill

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