What the future can really look like…

By Julian Fris Director Neller Davies

We live in interesting times. Britain is in the grips of political and economic uncertainty, driven in no small part by the choppy waters and uncharted territory of developments such as Brexit, as well as bigger global issues.

The future is undoubtedly foggy and a tendency towards short-termism has more or less taken over for many. Planning is difficult and there is an increasing pressure to meet short-term performance targets, be that in government, the financial markets or industry.

Ten year plans, are now one-year plans. 

A consequence of this approach is long term value creation and sustainable growth more or less fall by the wayside.

Of course one could argue that the reticence towards looking longer term is not only being driven by today’s climate of uncertainty, it is also helping to fuel it. It’s catch-22.

“But now is precisely the time to break that cycle because the risks of not looking far enough ahead include stifling of innovation, slowing of market movement and all round stasis.”

Foodservice and facilities management firms must invest in the future of their own businesses and the industry as a whole.

So where to start? It must be with people, the lifeline of any organisation. Skills development is vital at all stages of career progression, starting at grassroots level. Our industry must get in early with schools and academies to inspire an appreciation for food, for instance, and develop the right culture at a young age.

Identifying and nurturing fresh talent ensures a steady pipeline of personnel that are committed to this fantastic sector; people who don’t think of what they do as a job but as an engaging and rewarding career.

This is especially important when you consider the shifting employment landscape. Ever-advancing technology and boundary pushing artificial intelligence have done much to disrupt the jobs market.

And this is why Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, has talked at length at the World Economic Forum about the importance of training children to be creative and innovative. The jobs that robots can do, let them do it. We should be looking at alternative solutions to jobs and professions.

It seems like every other week there’s a new tech start-up ready to wow the world with game-changing innovation aimed at altering the way we live and work. Online food delivery companies like Deliveroo and UberEats are vying for a slice of the contract catering pie, while the internet of things, automation, big data and integration are revolutionising the way FM firms deliver services.

“However, if only the big tech/IT providers or Governments can fund this, contractors will only look to the short-term and struggle to invest. So it’s the whole delivery model at stake.”

Caterers and FMs need to engage better and the companies need to sponsor schools and academies so as to interact with the kids at a young age. The aim is to build a positive picture of the service sector rather than just a menial necessity or a ‘rite of passage’ for students. The machines won’t develop culinary creativity overnight or appreciation of fine wines or to clean and preserve art. Moreover, that essential human interaction will be lost. We might miss a generation in getting there but it’s worth the investment.

The way we live – the way we work, rest and play – is changing out of all recognition. New technology destroys many jobs but it also creates many new ones, says Ma, who argues that the service industry will be the largest engine for job creation.

And this will, in no small part, be due to increasing demand for the likes of catering at venues and public attractions as human experiences – a significant opportunity for growth.

This is why we should focus our energies and education on developing the skills that are unique to humans: values, beliefs, art, music, creativity, empathy… qualities that no computer can master.