Automation will result in different jobs – not fewer – but we must adapt 

The UK urgently needs a talent pipeline that will keep pace with automation, says Freya Thomas Monk

The UK urgently needs a talent pipeline that will keep pace with automation, says Freya Thomas Monk

7 May 2023, 5:00

With the recent launch of Open AI’s ChatGPT 4, headlines about the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on human employment prospects have again reached a fever-pitch. 

And just as technology seems to work harder, faster and better than the average person, we are faced with the reality that the UK remains consistently on the back foot when it comes to workforce skills. 

There is a persistent skills gap across key industries and – with the exponential rise of digital technologies in almost all sectors – we urgently need a talent pipeline that can keep pace with automation across the country. 

The good news is that automation will not necessarily mean fewer jobs in the UK – but it will lead to different jobs across different regions. 

Our new Local Skills Report takes a serious look at the changing nature of employment in the UK. Pearson’s AI-predictive modelling harnesses these emerging technologies to glean fresh insights into the future of work.

In brief, Pearson’s Workforce Skills division applies proprietary machine learning models to billions of data points in order to surface insights on how dynamic forces such as new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) are reshaping the world of work.

Using the West Midlands as a case study, our modelling suggests that 15 per cent of jobs in the region (affecting over 400,000 people) will see significant change over the next decade due to automation. Looking at specific sectors in the region, the biggest net change in demand will be for cleaners (+3,286 jobs), carers (+2,778 jobs) and HGV drivers (+2,680 jobs); in other words, roles that technology and automation will struggle to replace.

This is a shift that will require major changes in the skillsets of the local population. 

In order to best determine next steps, we conducted a substantial public opinion survey on attitudes towards skills and retraining. 

It is striking that-two thirds of the respondents (64 per cent) were interested in undertaking a course to learn new skills. Critically though, only 4 per cent of the public claim to know exactly what type of courses are available to learn new skills and only 5 per cent know what institutions offer programmes that develop skills. 

The public are clearly committed to learning useful skills that will help them find better, sustainable jobs – but interventions are required to steer individuals towards employable skillsets that will boost their prospects.

So how do we act upon what the data is telling us? This is, of course, the difficult bit.  Our new report makes the following recommendations: 

Use data to plan for the future 

We need to keep looking forward in order to anticipate the skills we will need in five, ten or even fifteen years’ time. Data insights can help anticipate the shifting demand and supply of skills, and policymakers should then respond accordingly. 

Further devolution to Combined Authorities 

Those at the heart of English regions understand local needs and what can be done to meet them. Building on the recent “trailblazer” devolution deals, we need to go further when it comes to coordination over 16-18 skills delivery, post-19 skills funding, and autonomy over careers advice for adults of all ages.

Incentivise employers to take the lead 

Individuals are more likely to make the time for skills training when encouraged by their current or prospective employer. Central and local government officials should therefore explore what policy levers can empower employers to offer more robust and systematic training to their employees. 

Embrace modular learning 

We should embrace technology to make it as easy as possible for individuals to integrate skills training into their day-to-day lives. Stackable micro-credentials that can be accumulated over flexible timelines will help to build a realistic culture of lifelong learning 

Bring providers together

Finally, we must ensure there is a unified ‘supply side’ architecture for training in a local area. It will take a coalition of local policymakers, local employers and education providers to do everything they can to make this happen. 

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