CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn spoke to an audience of Welsh business leaders at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus yesterday.
The need to secure a Brexit deal, the economic opportunities afforded by technology and the role of schools and colleges in training the workforce of the future were addressed in Carolyn Fairbairn’s remarks.
Guests also heard from Karen Phillips, Principal & Chief Executive of event sponsor Coleg y Cymoedd, and Wayne Harvey, CBI Wales Chair. ITV’s Brexit Correspondent Carole Green will facilitate a Q&A.
On Brexit and securing a deal, CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn said:
“So many businesses here in Wales are full of optimism and enthusiasm. They want to be talking about – and acting on – Welsh strengths. To signal that Wales is open for business. But desperately want to put an end to uncertainty.
“And I think there is a myth out there – in our national conversation. That no-deal would put an end to ongoing indecision. That it would be a clean break, a moment of action. But the reality is – no-deal would be just the beginning. Of years of talks, and further negotiating.
“As one CEO said to me – no-deal is not a cliff edge, but a swamp. And there is no evidence to suggest a sudden break with the EU would unlock investment that has been put on hold. Only one thing can do that: getting a deal.
“So our first goal must be to find that Brexit breakthrough to ensure our economy is in good shape to invest elsewhere in Welsh schools, hospitals, infrastructure so we can turn to the future with relief and unbounded enthusiasm.”
On uncertainty and it’s impact on the Welsh economy, Carolyn said:
“Something that has been lost in recent weeks – the cost of uncertainty for our devolved nations, and for Wales.
“Because for years, the UK has been famous for the culture, natural beauty, and history that make up the nations of our United Kingdom. Known across the world in their own right. And for decades, this international standing was matched by economic stability.
“GE Aircraft Maintenance has been based in Wales – just up the road – for over 20 years. Around one in ten students at Welsh universities come from overseas to study here.
“And this afternoon, I visited the Newport tech cluster where factories that have produced silicon semiconductors for decades are now helping to develop the technologies behind 5G, robotics and driverless cars.
“It’s an enviable position. But for the past 3 years Brexit has cast doubt on the UK – and our place on the world stage. And there is a risk that, with continued uncertainty investment will continue to be postponed – holding back the great potential of this economy.”
On Wales and the changing nature of work, Carolyn added:
“We know that over the last 15 years automation has created around four times as many jobs as those lost. But the real change we’re seeing isn’t the number of jobs. It’s the nature of work itself.
“With more highly-paid, highly-skilled jobs in engineering, technology or science. No doubt good news for young people who can train at colleges like this one.
“But those of us in business have a responsibility. To today’s specialised blue-collar workers – or those who feel their livelihoods are at risk. Because the skills challenge we face isn’t just a question of access to talent. It’s an opportunity for business to build a fairer society.
“And actually, nowhere is better placed to lead this transition than Wales. Just think of the history of Cardiff Bay. It is the story of a transition from heavy industry – coal and steel – to becoming the biggest tech hub outside London. Today, firms in Newport and Caldicot are competing with Germany, China and the US in scientific research and development.
“And the areas where this shift has been most successful are those that have invested in skills and exploited the expertise of local colleges and educators. Thanks to places like the National Cyber Security Academy at the University of South Wales Cardiff University’s Institute for Compound Semiconductors and of course, colleges like this one.”
Ahead of the event, Karen Phillips, Principal & Chief Executive of Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “As a college with expansive and deep-rooted connections with the Welsh business community, and as a CBI member, it is a privilege for us to welcome Dame Carolyn Fairbairn and Welsh business leaders to Coleg y Cymoedd.
“We work closely with business of all kinds to produce highly skilled and motivated young people who are ready to make an immediate impact in the workplace, both in Wales and beyond. Collaborating with businesses enables us to understand the challenges that they face and tailor our courses accordingly to address these workforce requirements. As automation, AI and emerging technologies are integrated into operations, our goal is to ensure learners develop the skills needed for both new and existing Welsh industries.
“We want young people at this college, as well as their successors in the coming decades, to have the same opportunities that we have enjoyed ourselves over the last forty years. We therefore share Carolyn’s concerns about the impact of Brexit, especially regarding the prospect of a no deal. Regardless of the outcome in October, we will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure that they and young people respond positively to decisions taken in Westminster and Brussels.”