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This isn’t strictly Web Team related, but this is the best place to post it.

So, I got asked to go to a thinktank event as a local blogger, which I guess I am. The event is about globalisation, which is a swear word in some of the circles I move (drink) in. Before agreeing I had to work out if I was comfortable with this, and I cam to the conclusion that my attitude to globalisation is that it’s a tool. Like, say, electricity. I think we can agree that electricity is, on balance, pretty useful (if not, how are you reading this?) However too much in the wrong place is a really Bad Thing.

This event is called FutureStory. This initially gave me the idea that it was going to be about trying to come up with ideas about the future of Southampton. Looking at the PDF files which came out of events in other cities, I was a bit disappointed, as it was all about what local companies and projects were currently doing. My housemate pointed out that what I’d missed was that all of these companies are looking to the future, which should be the launching point of ideas, but they are already established. What happens next? (edit: I’ve just noticed the Southampton FutureStory book is on the table, so they’re *not* writing that today… which means that it *is* the jumping off point. That’s hopeful)

Southampton is not generally very proud of itself, and it is quite cool seeing a bunch of younger people being told that this is somewhere where lots of globally important and interesting stuff happens.

The event is largely about getting young people thinking about the fact that business *is* going to change in the future. Companies which can adapt will survive. Many won’t. Looking to support the UK economy in 5 years from now means getting people learning the skills now.  Jonathon Shaw MP, the regional minister for the South East gave an introduction about the importance of getting people with the right skills, and helping people into smaller business as well as the big business track most people imagine themselves in.

The catch with what he’s saying here, is that how the hell do you train people for the new jobs? Imagine a kid doing their GCSEs this year. If they do a degree then they’ll be graduating around 2015. Twitter only appeared in 2006. Now there’s people who need to know how to use it for part of their job. This GSCE’r may well find in their first job they’ll need to be an expert in something that’s not going to be *invented* until next year. How do they pick which A Levels to take? IMO you can’t, but learning maths, expecially boolean logic won’t hurt. Nor will people skills. The ability to do a boolean search (using and, or and not effectively) is the difference between hours of slog and seconds of thinking to satisfy your curiosity.

I don’t like networking. Not my thing. At the “just introduce yourself to someone for 90 seconds” I manage to randomly end up talking to the ProVC of Solent. Used the opportunity to ask for a suggestion of how to find people at Solent to get involved in “Southampton Developers” . Dammit, I appear to be someone who benefits from networking! At least I’m still not wearing a suit, yet.

The video they showed about Southampton businesses looking to the future stared with lots of shots of the docks and the cargo canisters. In my head the whole thing got overlaid with the theme music from season 2 of the wire but I don’t want to suggest that the similarity goes beyond cranes and containers. And that’s the thing that stuck with me from the bit about the docks. Using containers speeds up the turnaround by a factor of 4. That’s amazing and just requires getting everyone in the world on the same page. It’s like a cube root. It’s really easy to check you got a valid answer, but getting the answer in the first place is really hard. The best ideas (like Open Access to research and Linked government data, or the scientific method) once they are established seem obvious. And many great and *obvious* ideas have not yet been expressed, or at least not reached the tipping point where they become obvious.

Yikes; good core skills (according to the Minister) are reading, writing, adding up and ICT. The three R’s have changed since I was at school. It’s a bit of a shock to hear it expressed. Jonathan Shaw is also talking about government contracts needing to include a requirement to take on apprenticeships and be engaged with bringing skills to the community. Sounds like a good long term idea. The example; a recent government loan to construction companies to get them to start building despite the recession. The loans required them to take on apprentices on the builds.

I was going to ask the panel a difficult question, but that’s become apparent that it’s not appropriate. This is useful for the students here and they want to ask questions about the future. My question was going to be how to ensure we have “firebreaks” in globalisation? There’s a danger of building a super efficient house of cards where one natural disaster can collapse the entire global economy. The global just-in-time economy scares the hell out of me. This article about the collapse of the USSR got me thinking about these things last year. There is a really exciting answer to this which is that globalisation could also mean creating more peer to peer distribution networks so local business delivers locally. Rather than all farms supplying the big supermarkets, I could have a web service more like Amazon, where I order my food and it’s delivered by the most local source. If the economy collapses, we still have the basic means of production, for essential services, in each region. “Food Miles” are going to be an increasingly big deal. As is the miles travelled for any resource. I can imagine services like and cafepress operating globally but  with points of production all over the world. When 3D printing gets off the ground, that’ll be interesting too.

In the Q&A phase most of the questions are about how to get the opportunities. Schools have a focus on getting exams passed, not getting their students work experience and other activities. Some schools are great at it. But it sucks if your school doesn’t bother with that. Advice to students; badger your school teachers! Getting the first bit of experience to get the next job is an utter arse for people. Many good people are lost to minimum wage jobs because they can’t get that first rung on the ladder. It puts me in mind of a job advert I saw in 1998 which wanted a java programmer with 5 years of experience. As it was released in 1995 it’s possible a few people at Sun had that much but the rules were changing too quick for the HR department. How do you hire someone for a job where you’re not sure of what the job description will by the time their probation period is over?

The key message for students (it seems to me) is to take the initiative. You have access to google & can use it better than your teachers. If you don’t investigate what’s on offer to create your own future you’ll just falling into something. You might get lucky, but I’ve noticed that people who do their research and leg-work tend to be luckier. Probably just a co-incidence.

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