Suffolk:Future Forum focuses on population and resource issues

MAJOR changes in the way we will live and work in the future and how this will affect the way we do business were discussed at an event for Suffolk business leaders, led by global future strategy expert David Smith and hosted by financial and business advisers Grant Thornton, banking group HSBC and East Anglian law firm Birketts.

The global economy, advances in technology, the changing face of the consumer, world energy and resources and climate change were all on the agenda, with the main message to businesses being “Don’t just focus on the short term, capitalise on these massive global changes and visualise where you can ultimately get to”.

James Brown, partner at Grant Thornton, said: “In the current economic climate it is all too easy to simply concentrate on today rather than the fundamental long term issues of tomorrow. It was great to receive such a prompt on what we all need to be tackling strategically.”

According to David Smith, the size of the world economy will triple over the next four decades as the major US, G7 and European markets are overtaken by the emerging seven fast growth economies including the Indian and Chinese markets.

The global population is expected to grow by 2.2billionn from 2010 to 2050 and, according to the Cass Business School, life expectancy is also expected to increase with men born in 1985 now expected to live up to an average age of 97, rather than 76 years as previously forecast.

With this in mind, David Smith urged businesses to start catering for the changing population now, concentrating on products and services that will focus on future rather than short term needs.

However, despite a growing population, the EU workforce is expected to fall by 68 million workers by 2050, with India being the only major economy whose workforce will grow in the next 20 years. Job requirements will also change with an 883 per cent rise in business service jobs by 2017 (a third of all employment growth) and rapid expansion in sectors such as ICT, biotech, manufacturing and care for the young and elderly.

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Mr Smith also predicted the creation of new jobs such as vertical farmers, climate change reversal specialists, old age wellness specialists and social network workers to reflect changing society.

The dramatic pace of change in technology was also discussed with Mr Smith explaining that e-mail will soon become an obsolete form on communication, replaced by Facebook and other social networks which will play an increasingly important role in our lives.

He also predicted that by 2018, “supercomputers” will exist which are 500 times faster than the most powerful computers today, and the way we interact with technology will advance, replacing keyboard and touch screen with some form of “artificial intelligence”.

Alistair Lang, chief executive of Birketts, said: “These are all huge questions for business and for society as we know it. The shift in spending power across the globe and across the age range, the potential realignment of the underlying culture which governs our day to day existence and the pace of technological change are all food for thought indeed.”

Climate change was also a hot topic with David Smith predicting that due to melting ice caps, a new Polar Sea Route will become viable, opening up North Russian ports and creating a new passage that is currently impassable. The changing climate will also affect food and water resources with competition for land and water increasing.

He went on to predict how the future will see populations concentrated in cities rather than rural areas and the emergence of a ‘generation rent’ with people moving away from owning material goods such as technology, household appliances and even property, preferring to rent for a period of time before moving on to the next thing.

Kevin Thorn, area commercial director at HSBC, said: “The key points for me were that the pace at which technology and health research will develop will continue to increase and what we currently think of impossible will become the norm in relatively few years.

“There are clearly opportunities for businesses who can provide products and services to the emerging markets and new wealth particularly in countries such as India and China.”

The Suffolk Future Forum event was held at Kesgrave Hall near Ipswich. David Smith is chief executive officer of Global Futures and Foresight (GFF), a strategic futures think tank which works with clients to develop insights and responses to the trends and forces shaping the future. GFF also undertakes its own programme of research studies.

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