Future of Work and Skills System for Scotland and Northern Ireland – A focus on young people alone will not be enough

This report marks the third in a series of three reports looking at what a 21st century skills system should look like, in a comparative study across Northern Ireland and Scotland.


Disruption will be significant over the coming years – the skills system needs to be ready
Automation, artificial intelligence, new advances in analytics and technological change will bring huge disruption to Northern Ireland and Scotland over the coming years. This new wave of automation – sometimes referred to as the fourth industrial revolution – will bring ‘thinking’ machines that will bring automation to sectors and skill levels not reached previously.

Almost half of jobs in Northern Ireland and Scotland (49 per cent and 46 per cent respectively) have a high potential of change through automation over the coming years. This does not mean these jobs will disappear, but it does mean they could change signi cantly, bringing huge new demand for upskilling and reskilling (Callander et al 2018). However, the vast majority of the workforce of 2040 have already left compulsory education – 57.7 per cent and 57.3 per cent of the workforce of 2040, in Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively, have already left compulsory education (ibid). A focus on young people alone will not be enough.

At the same time, we know that the population in Northern Ireland and Scotland will age quite dramatically. The number of pensioners for every 100 people of working age will increase from 26 per 100 to 35 per 100 in Northern Ireland, and increase from 29 per 100 to 36 per 100 in Scotland, between now and 2040. To protect living standards we will need to see signi cant increases in the working-age population or we will need to deliver signi cant increases in productivity from the remaining working-age population (ibid).

Alongside automation and ageing we are also likely to see further disruption from the changing nature of globalisation, climate change, and political uncertainty both within Northern Ireland and Scotland, within the UK and internationally. We are entering, if not already in, an age of disruption and we will need a skills system ready to help us respond.

Improving the quality of work will be key to the skills system

Currently, too many young people leave the skills system too soon, never to return, entering low-paid and insecure work that for too many become low-paid and insecure careers. In Northern Ireland we found that 18.7 per cent of 16–24-year-old workers are in insecure work, compared to 11.4 per cent of over-25s. In Scotland, 14.9 per cent of 16–24-year-old workers are in insecure work compared to 9 per cent of over-25s (see Table 1 below). At the same time we know few workers escape low-skilled work. Our previous work has shown that on average, only 2.5 per cent of workers in Northern Ireland, and only 6.2 per cent of workers in Scotland, progressed from low-skilled work per quarter between 2013 and 2018. This compares to a UK average of 6 per cent (Gunson et al 2018). For too many, low-paid work is a trap that leads to low-paid careers.

If the challenge following the recession of the 1990s was to get people back into work. The challenge we face now is in getting people into higher-quality work.

We will need a fully exible lifelong-learning offer to increase participation among older workers, and increase employer engagement and investment 

We will likely need to develop a new lifelong-learning offer with fully exible provision – from intense bursts of learning to very part-time learning, modular, and tailored speci cally to learner choices and employer needs. This could place learners at the heart of new lifelong learning provision and enable employers of all sizes to engage with the skills system and workers, including the self-employed, to access in-work learning.

Curricula will need to be based on skills, attributes and a competency-
based approach

The aim of the skills system, including increased provision for mid-career workers, should be to develop skills, attributes and competencies. Given likely significant levels of disruption facing Northern Ireland and Scotland, we will need to create adaptive and resilient learners, and adaptive and resilient employers, through learning that goes beyond employees’ existing roles, and employers’ short-term needs.

The skills system will need to be an ‘early adopter’ of new technologies

We will need the skills system to become an early adopter of new technologies in how people learn, mixing online and face-to-face learning, increasing the impact from investment in skills, and keeping up with a world of work that will see far greater use of technologies.

The costs of transition will be large and should be shared between the public and employers

The transition from today to the Northern Ireland and Scotland we will need in the future will be expensive. We will need to see signi cant increases in provision for over-21s to reskill and upskill as automation, ageing and economic change bring signi cant disruption. We have estimated that the additional skills investment required to aid transition, and prepare for automation, will reach £100 million per year in Northern Ireland and £250 million per year in Scotland by 2025. The bene ts of successfully managing the disruption we face could be signi cant. Therefore, the costs of transition should be shared.

We have set out clear recommendations for both Northern Ireland and Scotland, tailored for their current context, and the future they face. We believe the recommendations, taken together, could help to deliver a Northern Ireland and Scotland best-prepared for automation and ageing, and ready to the take the significant opportunities on offer as technological and demographic change takes place.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The future is coming: ready or not? Delivering a successful 21st century skills system for Scotland and Northern Ireland | IPPR

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