Over 700,000 jobs are at risk from automation in Wales over the next two decades – roughly one job in every two (in specified sectors). Even more worrying is the deeply gendered impact of automation; for every three males jobs lost, one will be replaced, whilst women will lose five jobs for each new one created.
In June, I pulled together leading experts in the field of automation, along with some of Wales’ biggest employers, to discuss the scale and speed of the challenge faced, and what strategies are needed to collectively address this issue.
Automation isn’t something to halt, it’s something to harness. The rapid technological evolution underway will present significant opportunities; if we prepare well, automation could drive out repetitive, high-risk jobs, replacing them with creative, well-paid alternatives. But action is needed to prevent the ‘uberisation’ of jobs – often characterised by low pay and insecurity. And we must ensure the safety net is fit for purpose.
The development of a future-proofed skills agenda will help achieve this ambition. We need to rapidly scale-up coding and ICT provision in our schools, and we need to better prepare people for the instability and uncertainty that is coming; providing people at all stages of their career with sought-after leadership qualities – such as flexibility, creativity and innovation.
Supporting firms and organisations to focus on product diversification (over productivity) will help lessen the human impact of automation as established product (or service) knowledge will be seen as an advantage, and existing staff will be redeployed rather than made redundant. Focus must also remain on finding new ways of encouraging girls and women into STEM subjects and careers.
But to capitalise on these opportunities, and prepare for the risks, Wales needs a 2050 vision for our economy; we need to be at the forefront of the adoption for new technologies; and we need to approach automation with ambition to create uncontested market spaces – leveraging our existing expertise and combining it with new technologies to exploit emerging market opportunities.