The Possibility Club

Should we fear the dark side of automation?

Matthew Searle makes a plea to universities about the future of work

Industry and Higher Education must work together to enlighten each other about the future world of work

“Have you ever heard of bearer bonds?” asked my taxi driver.

I had to admit that I hadn’t.

He went on to explain that bearer bonds were one of the ways to transfer money from organisation to organisation before the days of the internet. He worked for a large Swiss bank and travelled around the world carrying bearer bonds in his briefcase.

He continued: “And then when my job was replaced by electronic banking, my employer helped me re-train to become a pensions analyst.”

Throughout history, whether it be the invention of the wheelGutenberg’s printing press or the development of the internet, automation has always made a process more efficient and thus, in some circumstances, replaced jobs. Rather than fearing the dark side of automation, industry and Higher Education should work together to enlighten each other and make the most of the huge opportunities which will become available.

There’s currently a real fear in industry about what automation will lead to because the pace of change is so fast.

This is mainly because those at the executive level don’t necessarily have the first-hand experience to draw on to manage the changes we are witnessing, which is traditionally how management typically works.

This lack of experience will only deteriorate and fear will heighten as automation is set to replace a huge number of roles in the next few years. If newly qualified accountants are replaced by robots, where will the next generation of audit managers come from? Managers and executives will need to be honest with themselves and seek further education throughout their own careers.

Universities and industry have an opportunity to work together to ensure not only the current younger generation of students are being educated to succeed in a changing world, but also to help re-train a group of workers to succeed in new roles, as well as those in middle management and executive roles.

The higher education industry must become a lot more agile to respond to this new demand from industry in order to remain relevant. Certainly for business schools, the days of updating course content on an annual basis could be numbered. A way forward will be for universities to build effective, long-lasting relationships with those in industry to understand first-hand the challenges they are facing today. This will help to inform, develop and validate university course content for the needs of industry tomorrow.

Each year industry and higher education explore how to enlighten each other about the future at the World of Work conference, hosted by Henley Careers. Free free to explore a range of articles, videos and think-pieces on the role of technology in the future workplace.


Do you agree? Disagree?

Join The Possibility Club for free and take part in our online ideas lab, monthly events and submit your own blog on what you think the future of business, culture and education looks like. Get in touch at

To hear from some incredible thinkers on technology in the future of work, listen to our interviews below with Steve Wells on futurism and leadership; Chris Middleton on robots and Erica Neve on how Freeformers are creating an inclusive digital skills programme for young people across the UK.



Matthew Searle is Head of Relationship Management in the careers and professional development team at Henley Business School and a Director of always possible. Find him on Twitter at @mattjksearle

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