In the latest Automation Readiness Index (ARI) report, published by The Economist, the UK has been ranked 8th in terms of readiness for the coming wave of workplace automation.
Overall, the report shows most countries are only now starting to think about the challenges of automation. Even the three top countries, South Korea, Germany and Singapore respectively, still have a long way to go in terms of prep work. Despite its place on the index, the UK does rank well for its Environment score and is above average for its Labour Market Policies.
However, the UK’s poor ranking has prompted some to call on the Scottish Government to do more to avoid a potentially devastating job vacuum. Scottish Secretary of the Unite union, Pat Rafferty, said: “The report’s analysis that we are behind in the education of young people to enable them to benefit from automation is a warning. So too is the fact that the report finds there is a clear lack of adequate training in innovation in the workplace, and the policies to make that happen.”
Unison Head of Public Affairs, Dave Watson said: “Proper planning and strategy is needed now, not further down the line. We should be anticipating where we are likely to see job losses and putting measures in place to ensure that we have a just transition to new types of jobs. Industry will not do this, it’s very hard to get companies to plan that far in advance, so government needs to step up to the plate.”
Scottish Government Aware of the Issue
This report follows a recent joint report by the Scottish Government and Scottish Trade Union Congress, which found there were growing concerns among Scottish workers over the continued rise in technology. The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government addresses the issue of Automation and acknowledge that digital skills need to be addressed. However, it is not readily clear how the government plans to do so. Automation is an emotive topic and the government will need to set out a realistic plan on how to address the topic.
Another report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has asserted that previous forecasts have been overblown. However, it does concede that job tasks are likely to change considerably in the future because of automation.
Flexible Policies that Promote Easy Worker Transition
As automation becomes more prevalent the skills required by employers will evolve, so too will educational requirements. The report shows that it will likely displace at least some workers currently engaged in automatable tasks and it urges countries to create programmes to promote worker flexibility and the development of new skills.
More engagement between government, industry, educational specialists and other stakeholders must be undertaken if policy making is to keep pace with innovation in automation. Education and training are key areas that the UK are failing in, therefore it will be crucial for the Scottish Government take this into consideration when considering future policy. Furthermore, the report strongly recommends that the government do more to support lifelong learning.