It may be an unsettling thought for many business owners to imagine that in a few years’ time, their workforce could look completely different, with a host of, as yet, unidentified new skills required to run operations – many of which their current workforce will not possess.

The proposition that a significant proportion of the jobs available right now will no longer be required in ten or twenty years is not unique to any one industry.

Indeed, such is the time we’re living in that there are even handy online tools which, with the click of a button, can give employees and business owners a percentage probability that their job or sector will be taken over by machines. Great news, on the face of it, if you’re a teacher or own a hairdressing company – workforces which remain largely unaffected by the march of the robots. Less so, apparently, if you’re in the business of accounting and auditing or are operating machinery in a manufacturing setting.

A recent study by the Bank of England estimated in the UK, 15 million jobs could be ‘at risk’ of automation. However, frequent use of the phrase ‘at risk’ concerns me slightly. As we’re increasingly observing, technology is developing at such a pace that new jobs, with new opportunities, to work with new technologies and products are being created all the time.

Just like the first, second and third industrial revolutions, the emergence of new technologies and processes boosted demand for new goods, creating new industries and new types of workers that weren’t yet in existence.

History looks to be repeating itself for the fourth industrial revolution and it’s well-documented technological innovation is disrupting the labour market. However, the narrative must change from one sparking fear of the negative implications of this advancement, to one which promotes and fosters new opportunities and supports business owners in taking positive steps to upskill, find talent and anticipate the skills they’ll require for the future.

A recent survey of firms carried out by the World Economic Forum found in three years’ time, 54 per cent of all employees will have required substantial upskilling or reskilling. Therefore, anticipating the skills valuable to business years from now is, or certainly should be, a key consideration and one which must be positively addressed, rather than being presented as a damning reflection of a dystopian future.

The demand for people with technical skills, for example, far outstrips supply at the moment, and the pace of change is fast - a European skills and jobs survey revealed 43 per cent of employees in the EU have experienced a change in technology at work in the last five years.

However, the very sector so many fear will take over jobs is actually helping companies find and deliver new opportunities to their workforce.

Right now, artificial intelligence and machine learning are being trialled by organisations in Europe to assess employment trends and skills currently in demand. In an era of rapid technological advancement, traditional methods assessing the skills required by businesses, such as employer surveys, are just too slow, with AI and machine learning increasingly used by government and industry bodies to predict changing requirements and in turn, enable the right upskilling and recruitment to take place at the right time.

For example, some innovative approaches use job advertisement data and machine learning algorithms to provide an analysis of the skills required by employers in similar industries. The method is still in development and is yet to be fully deployed, but it demonstrates a promising new opportunity for skills anticipation.

Universities are also trialling the use of AI to predict the everchanging graduate jobs market and assess student career outcomes. Universities in America, for example, use it to identify those studying degrees for which there are fewer job opportunities upon graduation, enabling early intervention.

There’s therefore a positive link between jobs, skills and automation than many initially anticipated.

The real task for businesses now is examining how they can implement data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to benefit them. Those who do will become much more reactive to the inevitable pace of change and will be well poised to adapt as organisations, and in their ability to predict and provide the workforce with jobs of the future.

Gillian Docherty is CEO of The Data Lab.