Skills envoy Sir Digby Jones warns employers of the dangers of failing to rise to challenge of Eastern economies at Work Wise Summit

Skills envoy Sir Digby Jones has warned UK businesses that unless they rise to the challenge of the new global economy, countries such as China and India will ‘eclipse’ the established Western economies within a matter of years.

Speaking at the second annual Work Wise Summit on a ‘smarter working Britain’, Jones said: “The 19th century Industrial Revolution was marked by Britain. The 20th century belonged to America. The 21st century is all about Asia – the developed world needs to wake up to that.”

The summit aims to get half the UK working population, some 14 million workers, to have the opportunity to work smarter – including flexible, remote, mobile and home working – by 2011.

But seven million adults in the UK cannot read, Jones pointed out, and out of 33 million adults, 11 million cannot add up two- and three-figure numbers.

He added: “There is a big obstacle going forward. Britain does not have enough skilled people to put the ball in the net. This is Britain’s dirty little secret.

“We have got to get access for those that find it difficult to work. People have lost their confidence – there are a whole lot of people out there who think they are not needed.”

Women’s minister Ruth Kelly, speaking at the summit, said: “Through flexible working we can start to tackle some of the great challenges facing the UK.”

The summit marks the start of Work Wise Week, which ends on Tuesday 22 May and includes a national Work from Home day on Friday 17 May.

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