Think Tank Urges Retraining Programmes For Those Replaced By Robots


The IPPR argues a skills levy could help offset the disruptive effects of robots replacing millions of human jobs

The government should spend billions to retrain those whose jobs are expected to be threatened by automation in the coming years, according to a new study.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the jobs expected to be eliminated by robots are likely to disporportionately affect those with the least education and areas the furthest from London, exacerbating existing social and geographical divisions.

Ocado SoMa robot

Concentrated effect

The group’s report found that automation is likely to have a concentrated effect on particular sectors, with five million jobs at risk in retail, hospitality, transport and manufacturing.

More than two and a half million of those at-risk jobs are in wholesale and retail alone, a sector in which three in four workers lack a degree-level qualification and may have difficulty finding other work.

The think tank proposed a retraining allowance of up to £2,000 for those whose jobs are replaced by robots and for the apprenticeship levy, which came into effect at the beginning of this month, to be broadened into a more general skills levy.

The programme should include a focus upon helping adults retrain and a geographic element recognising that areas further from London are more at risk.

In London 39 percent of jobs have a high likelihood of being automated, compared to 47 percent in Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands, and 48 percent in the North-East and Northern Ireland, the IPPR said.

government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca Shutterstock government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca Shutterstock

‘Huge changes’

“Britain can’t afford to ignore the huge changes that will transform our labour market in the coming years,” said Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the IPPR, in a statement. “If we don’t retrain Britain’s workforce with the skills they need for the future we are likely to end up with a society where a small number prosper while many are left behind.”

PwC forecast last month that robots and artificial intelligence could replace 10 million jobs in the UK, or 30 percent of the total, in the next two decades, while Deloitte recently predicted 16 percent of public sector jobs could be automated by 2030.

Automation is expected to create new professions – such as robot maintenance – but in the short term experts anticipate the trend will cause disruption.

France’s Socialist candidate in this year’s presidential elections has suggested a tax on robots that would fund programmes intended to ease that disruption, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently said such a tax could help societies to adapt.

Taxes on robots could help fund tasks for which humans are uniquely suited, such as education and care for the elderly, Gates said.

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