Robots to invade workplace – time for a skills reboot

Vision of the future: a robot looking thoughtful. Picture: istock
Vision of the future: a robot looking thoughtful. Picture: istock
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Almost half of all Scottish jobs could be done by machines within the next 13 years, a report has warned.

The think tank IPPR Scotland said that 1.3 million jobs north of the border – 46 per cent – are likely to become automised by 2030. The study also called for “urgent reform” to reskill existing workers over the same time period – 78 per cent of whom will still be of working age.

The report, Scotland’s Skills 2030, also said that there is a ‘progression gap’ in the workplace, where low-skilled workers are less likely to see investment in their skills or training, and less likely to progress from low-skilled work than their contemporaries in many other parts of the UK.

It said a new body – the Open Institute of Technology – needs to be created to help give people more training and career support when they are mid-way through their working life.

It said that some traditional jobs will become deskilled as a result of automisation and may disappear completely, while new currently unimagined jobs emerge.

“This will likely lead to an increasing number of people having multiple careers with multiple employers,” the report said.

Russell Gunson, director of IPPR Scotland, said: “Scotland urgently needs to design a skills system better able to work with people already into their careers to help them to retrain, reskill and respond to the world of work of 2030.

“Scotland has a really strong record on skills in many ways, and in this report we find that Scotland is the highest skilled nation in the UK.

“However, our system has a clear gap in that we don’t have enough provision for people who have already started their careers, and employers are not investing to fill this gap.”

He added: “To respond to the huge changes facing Scotland around demographic, technological and climate change – and of course Brexit – we’re going to have to focus on retrofitting the current workforce to provide them with the skills they need, to deliver the inclusive economic growth we wish to see.”

The report said that while qualifications levels “have been steadily improving and are higher than levels in the UK as a whole”, the report said that Scotland “continues to have lower rates of in-work progression” than the UK as a whole, while pay rates have reduced in real terms and are behind those for the UK.

The think tank also suggested that skills qualifications “should be reviewed to ensure they remain fit for their purpose”, and called for the Scottish Government to consider how business tax allowances could be used to encourage investment in skills by employers.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Our Labour Market Strategy recognises that Scotland’s workforce is highly educated, flexible and adaptable. It’s already responding well to the challenges of the 21st century.”

He added: “We know the pace of technological change will be relentless in the years ahead, but we are confident there will be opportunities, as well as challenges, for a country with Scotland’s fundamental economic strengths.”