UK gov says it will retrain workers displaced by automation

18 July 2019

Liverpool is the first city where the retraining scheme will take place. Source: Shutterstock

Despite the huge advantages that automation technology can bring to businesses– whether it’s in agriculture, healthcare, fast food, logistics, finance, or, well, pretty much any industry you can think of– the impact on human jobs remains a weighted concern. 

The frequent, go-to response for the worries expressed is that, while yes, certain jobs will be made redundant– particularly blue-collar and more menial white-collar tasks–  automation will also ‘free up’ staff for more creative, cognizant tasks. They’ll finally be unburdened, able to express their true selves to the benefit of the business.

Jobs lost to AI

The real nature of these new roles is rarely elaborated and, in reality, while the integration of AI and automation technology will require specialist (human) support, those individuals on the coalface now will most likely be seen as a barrier to stripped-back efficiency and extra expense to business operations. 

In anticipation of what could be a mass human redundancy on the horizon throughout the course of the next decade, therefore, the UK government has committed itself to investing in the retraining of individuals whose jobs could become obsolete as a result of automation.

As reported by the BBC, the move comes as Oxford Analytics (OA) predicts up to 20 million jobs in manufacturing alone could be replaced by robots by 2030. The same report predicts that those whose jobs are sidelined by industrial robots and computers will find that comparable roles in the services sector are also under the robotic cosh.

National training scheme

The proposed National Training Scheme will be trialled in Liverpool initially, according to Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who said that while AI and automation are transforming work and bringing “huge benefits” to the economy, they will inevitably make some jobs a “thing of the past”.

“The National Retraining Scheme will be pivotal in helping adults across the country, whose jobs are at risk of changing, to gain new skills and get on the path to a new, more rewarding career,” said Hinds.

“This is a big and complex challenge, which is why we are starting small, learning as we go, and releasing each part of the scheme only when it’s ready to benefit its users.”

Future economic inequality

The retraining initiative is an important step for not just for the UK’s, but all governments, with those not taking action at risk of increased economic inequality, with low-skilled jobs nearly twice at risk of being made redundant than higher-skilled sectors, according to OA. 

Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey warned that even if automation technology doesn’t arrive at the force expected, the inevitable rise in outsourcing of manufacturing processes to other lower-cost countries will lead to similar consequences. 

Speaking to the BBC, Woodward urged government and industry to push towards “using people’s brains, not their hands– things that machines can’t do.”

While the announcement by the UK government is a welcome one, and shows at least a level of consideration into the impact technology will have on the country’s workforce and economy, tech industry body techUK said it was a “small” step in the right direction, but ongoing execution and commitment would be crucial to success. 

“Whilst the focus is on job displacement, the fact is no job is likely to remain untouched by the fourth Industrial Revolution, so we will all need to learn new skills.

“This means we need to be making significant investments in lifelong learning and helping people to navigate a pathway through this change.”