Lancashire's plan to be at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, just like it was the first - but are the county's workers ready?

Can Lancashire find a niche in the next industrial revolution?
Can Lancashire find a niche in the next industrial revolution?
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Lancashire should focus as much on its innovative future as the heritage of its past – or risk being left behind as the world of work is transformed.

That was the message from a committee of the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which heard that the “story of Lancashire” needs to tell businesses what the region has to offer to the industries of tomorrow.

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But first it will have to overcome the productivity gap which is holding it back, the LEP’s skills and employment board was told.

Productivity in Lancashire – a measure of what individual workers produce by their labour – stands at 83 percent of the UK average, which itself is not considered to be at an optimum level.

“The gap has closed slightly, but not as much as we need,” Andy Walker, Lancashire County Council’s Head of Business Development, said. By other measures – including the working age population and employment rate – the county matches average levels for the rest of the country.

In spite of being at the forefront of the first industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, members heard that Lancashire could lose out during the on-going fourth – where there is an increasing focus on robotics and artificial intelligence.

Lynne Livesey, Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Central Lancashire, said it was about “finding something we can own before another area of the country grasps it”.

Meanwhile, Andy Walker warned against presuming that productivity is “something only manufacturing companies have to do” – and added that future generations need not fear a world without jobs.

“Employment will change – we will have to retrain the people who will be the operatives [of technology]. A lot of the things which are made in the future may be very bespoke,” he said.

The Lancashire City Deal is waiting to find out if it has been successful in a bid for funding from the government’s national retraining scheme. The proposed project would see unemployed people in the county retrained in the skills they need to enter the construction industry.

Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend – speaking on behalf of all local authorities in Lancashire – said it was important not to underestimate the urgency of the task ahead.

“Sometimes we can spend two or three years doing the kind of work we’re talking about – and then the boat has sailed. You could say Lancashire lost out in the third industrial revolution and some areas are already ahead of us for the fourth,” he said.

And the lead headteacher at Shuttleworth College, Ruth England, told members that the county had to make sure students were prepared for the future needs of business – so that they, too, did not find themselves in need of retraining.

KNOW YOUR INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTIONS

The First (18th and 19th centuries) – characterised by the development of the textile industry and the urbanisation of previously rural, agriculture-based communities.

The Second (1870-1914) – the arrival of the internal combustion engine, light bulb and telephone. Mass production of goods using electricity.

The Third (1980s/1990s) – personal computers, information technology and the internet came to the fore during these decades.

The Fourth (present day) – characterised by 3D printing, the internet of things and autonomous vehicles.