With one in five UK jobs in urban areas at risk from automation, Caroline Wood, director of Coastal West Sussex, asks if the business community need to fearful of robots

Say robots and most people may think of cute lovable characters from a range of futuristic films, such as Star Wars, Short Circuit and Wall-E.

But, when it comes to the 21st century workplace, the relations of R2D2 are quite the debating point among business leaders.

From engineering firms to financial services companies, the use of robots is increasing as CEOs and shareholders see the benefits of machines doing labour previously reserved for humans.

The idea is that because machines need no pay, no rest and no added costs, such as pensions and sick pay, then it saves the company money in the long run.

But of course, there can be a human cost – as the number of workers required to man and monitor the robots is far less than the numbers needed to do the work in the first place.

It is this issue of automation which is causing quite a debate – so much so that it was the focus of the latest Centre for Cities Outlook 2018 report, which claims to be the definitive economic health check of the 63 largest urban areas in the UK.

Within it, Centre for Cities claim that one in five jobs in cities across Great Britain is in an occupation that is very likely to shrink due to robots.

When you think that the emphasis of organisations like CWS, which work with businesses, councils and other stakeholder, to drive economic growth you can see how this may be a real challenge moving forward.

The truth is that Coastal West Sussex, which stretches from Adur across to Chichester, we already have a range of businesses that are doing great work in the field.

It is perhaps because of this that Worthing – the only CWS are to feature in the list of 63 urban areas – came relatively high (16%, fourth out of 63) in the list of areas least affected by automation.

In some ways, it is a good thing as it means that the local economy (I use ‘local’ as areas like Bognor Regis, Shoreham and Chichester are similar economically) is already adapting to new technology and diversifying into areas like the creative and digital sectors.

But this does not mean that we can rest on our laurels.

This is why Coastal West Sussex is working with members and partner organisations to ensure that the workers of the future are equipped with the skills they and businesses need to thrive.

We have placed an emphasis on inspiring our young people to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths provision in our local schools, colleges and universities.

We are also encouraging businesses to play their part, by promoting apprenticeship programmes and upskilling their existing workforce to adapt to new technologies.

All of this will mean that people in Worthing and the other areas across the Coastal West Sussex area will have access to better paid and more secure work – something that will benefit the whole economy.