Can cities outsmart the robots?

The future of skills in the UK

As robots take over the world of work, this report investigates the types of skills that humans will increasingly need to succeed in the future.

Report published on 10 October 2018 by Elena Magrini and Naomi Clayton


Technology is transforming the world of work. Demand for physical skills is declining, while analytical and interpersonal skills, coordination and critical thinking – skills that complement machines – are becoming increasingly important.

But while education can help prepare people for the future world of work, there are huge disparities between English cities in terms of educational attainment and participation at all stages – from early years to schools and lifelong learning. Cities in the North and Midlands are under-performing on these measures compared to places in the Greater South East.

Without concerted action to address these educational disparities, socio-economic divides across the country will widen. It is critical that we put in place a skills system which ensures every city is equipped to respond and adapt to the changing world of work


  1. Every city should establish a ‘Skills Compact’, bringing together policy-makers, education providers and businesses to collectively improve education and training at all levels. Priorities should include raising school standards and increasing extra-curricular opportunities for children and young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will support the development of interpersonal and analytical skills.
  2. The Department for Education (DfE) and devolved administrations should give cities more powers over spending on education and training. This would enable places to experiment and tailor the provision of education and training to better meet the skills needs of their residents and economies.
  3. The Department for Education should also lead on creating a common framework to define interpersonal and analytical skills. DfE should work with employers and skills experts to establish a clear definition of the interpersonal and analytical skills that are needed for current and future jobs, and review how they can be embedded in each educational stage.
  4. The Government should lead a drive to increase provision and take-up of adult learning opportunities, to help workers retrain and gain new skills. This should include raising the profile of existing adult training opportunities, and removing financial barriers which prevent workers from accessing training.



2018-10-12 Can cities outsmart the robots - The future of skills in UK cities PDF (2 MB)

Thanks to Emsi for providing data for this report.

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