The first question for a long-term take on the UK labour market has to be, what kind of British economy is going to emerge from the current downturn?
It is of course impossible to say with precision. But we know that the UK is almost certainly going to emerge with a consolidated financial services sector. We know that retail will probably grow more slowly than the rest of the economy. And after a decade of badly needed investment that has strengthened many parts of the public sector, public-sector job creation will not grow at anything like the same rate.
So this raises a big question. Where are the jobs going to come from?
Well, the global market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services is currently worth about £3 trillion. The UK's environmental goods and services sector is the sixth biggest globally, and is projected to grow substantially. If the UK takes advantage of the opportunities available and realises this growth, we could see over a million jobs in this sector by the middle of the next decade.
But it is an if. Because this is going to be a fearsomely competitive sector. To get there we will need a smart, strategic approach from government that makes sure that the business environment is absolutely fine tuned to that outcome – and that includes using things like government procurement strategies to help companies willing to take the leap to develop the expertise that will make them global leaders.
There are analogies for what we want to do in other areas. Digital infrastructure and the creative and knowledge industries – the work Stephen Carter is doing to create a fully digital Britain. Bioscience. Precision engineering and advanced electronic manufacturing. And the world-class services sector that these industries need to be embedded in.
We can't know the future. Trying to anoint success stories in advance is a prescription for what you might call a "Betamax economy".
But we do know broadly what we need to be good at: being smarter and more innovative and creative and more flexible and adaptive and confident and entrepreneurial than the competition. That is where jobs will come from.
This is an edited extract from a speech by the Business Secretary to the Government's Jobs Summit yesterday