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Workers ready for reskilling as automation changes shape of the business world

Posted: 16th December 2019

Government and businesses are being urged to prepare for reskilling workers at risk from automation, with 45% of Scots feeling concerned at the prospect, compared to 38% across the UK.

Most workers in Scotland believe quotas should be introduced to protect human jobs. However, there is a huge appetite among the Scottish workforce to evolve in-step with automation and reskill, according to a new study by PwC.

Research commissioned by PwC highlights the risk of societal inequality and unfairness being exacerbated by automation unless the government and employers act together to address the ‘awareness’ and ‘aspiration’ gaps.

The Making the UK fairer: How we work report found that workers believe the UK government and businesses are responsible for ensuring the current workforce is reskilled where required, as automation begins to play an increasing role in the likes of manufacturing and production of goods.

More than one in seven Scots said they would be willing to take an online training course if their job was at risk to automation, with 64% willing to study full-time via distance learning and 51% prepared to study full-time at college or university. This acceptance of automation was compounded with 55% prepared to accept a lower or entry-level position at another company, and almost half (47%) prepared to take a lower salary.

The wide range of emotions felt by Scots at the encroachment of automation into the world of work ranges from excitement (10%), anger (7%), hope (15%), fear (15%), and indifference (10%).

The majority of Scots believe the job they are doing now will be different in 10 years’ time, inversing the view of workers across the UK. When asked to consider someone doing their job in a decade, 51% said it would be different, with 49% believing it would be the same. At a nationwide level, just 46% said it would be different.

This change in the way the country works will require reskilling for a number of workers whose jobs will be affected by automation. Looking at how this will be achieved, 28% of Scots said responsibility lay with the UK Government in Westminster, and 22% said the Scottish Government and local authorities were responsible. The same number (22%) said it was the responsibility of businesses, with just 4% saying it was up to themselves to seek out opportunities for reskilling.

This was widely reflective of the picture in the UK, though fewer Scots felt the responsibility lay with local authorities and more said it was up to businesses to reskill their staff.

From a list of things Government could potentially do to help people with the process of reskilling, providing free or subsidised training courses for anyone who loses their job through automation was the most welcome, backed by 86% of respondents in Scotland. There was also a strong desire for businesses who replace people with computers to step up, with 84% of respondents agreeing there should be a mandatory requirement for businesses to provide reskilling for those who have lost their jobs. There was also an appetite for quotas of human workers to be introduced by Government, with more than three-quarters (77%), backing such a move.

Stewart Wilson, head of government and public sector of PwC in Scotland, said that with the world of work rapidly changing, government, employers and workers all have a responsibility to respond. He commented:

“It is reassuring to see that so many people working in Scotland today both recognise the role that automation is going to play, and that they are keen to develop new skills in response to this. However, what our research tells us is that Government and business must ensure they collaborate to create opportunities for everyone – and that work must begin now.

“Our research has previously projected that more jobs will be created as a consequence of automation in Scotland than displaced leading to a net benefit. But we must recognise that while automation can improve the lives of skilled workers it may make life more difficult for those less skilled and so the UK and Scottish Governments, along with local authorities and businesses need to work together to invest in upskilling initiatives which will benefit the whole workforce”.

Quentin Cole, PwC’s Government and Health Industries leader, added:

“As the world of work evolves, we cannot protect jobs, but we can protect people, and businesses have a responsibility to provide their employees with the right skills and the right training. An empowered individual is more likely to be an engaged individual. That, in turn, will improve the perception of fairness across communities.”

 

 

Recommendations

The Making the UK Fairer: How we work report recommends that:

  • Government needs to take a lead: The government as a whole can play a direct role through upskilling its own workforce, and can also launch a national ‘Upskilling UK’ programme.
  • To complement the government’s existing Opportunity Areas programme, which aims to boost social mobility, the report recommends considering creating ‘Upskilling Zones’ in regions that are most prone to being negatively impacted by automation and related changes
  • A new upskilling fund could potentially fund could potentially be created from a reformed employer apprenticeship levy and redeployment of regional assistance funding currently allocated by the EU
  • Businesses needs to step up : Our recent survey of more than 22,000 people in 11 countries indicates that almost three quarters (73%) of workers would take up the opportunity to upskill, but many workers in the UK are not being offered upskilling opportunities by their employers.

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