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More than one in 10 UK workers need training to escape ‘high risk’ of automation

10 May 2019 By Lauren Brown

But OECD report says learning is not being concentrated on those whose jobs could be replaced 

More than one in 10 workers in the UK are at such high risk of seeing their roles automated that they require up to a year’s worth of training to secure a safer occupation, according to new research.

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found 14 per cent of UK workers fell into a high risk category where jobs could be entirely replaced by technology. An additional 2.6 per cent required more than three years of training to find an entirely new role.

However, the report found the workers most exposed to the risk of automation – the lowest-skilled – took part in less training than higher-skilled workers whose jobs were already more secure. 

Around one in seven high-risk workers received training in the last 12 months, compared to half of low-risk workers.



The figures are part of a wider international skills outlook report, which found that across nine developed countries, participation in training by low-skilled adults was 40 percentage points below that of high-skilled adults.

Launching the report in Paris, Angel Gurría, OECD secretary general, said: “In our rapidly digitalising world, skills make the difference between staying ahead of the wave and falling behind.

“Businesses have a key role to play in ensuring that employees upskill and reskill, adapting to the changing demands of the labour market. By improving our skills systems, we can ensure that today’s technological revolution will improve lives for all.” 

The findings square with recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which revealed workplace learning opportunities generally go to those who benefit from them the least.

It found just 26 per cent of employees in the UK had received in-work learning opportunities in the last three months – with professional occupations the most likely to have done so.

Conversely, just 16.2 per cent of those least likely to take part in in-work training – such as process, plant and machine operatives – were receiving learning opportunities. 

Speaking to People Management, CIPD skills advisor Lizzie Crowley said the ONS figures were troubling: “The research suggests from an employer perspective that we need to really focus on providing opportunities for training among the mid-skilled and lower-skilled occupations. In particular, the findings are quite shocking in terms of the proportion of training for those who have no qualifications.”

The ONS survey found 32.4 per cent of those with a degree or equivalent level qualification had received in-work training over the last three months, compared to just 8.5 per cent of those without qualifications.

Similarly, today’s OECD report highlighted a surprising lack of digital literacy among young people in the UK. It said the proportion lacking basic skills was “relatively high”, with 10 per cent of 16-29 year olds performing poorly in reading, mathematics and science. Another 3 per cent scored even lower in literacy and numeracy, had no computer experience or failed to have core ICT skills.

Conversely, the share of older people with poor digital literacy skills was below the OECD average.

The authors of the report said: “Workers in occupations at high risk of automation are particularly in need of upskilling or (re)training as they are more exposed than other workers to the risk of losing their jobs. Low-skilled workers face a large skills gap that needs to be filled to adjust to changing occupations.” 

They recommended businesses create flexible and shorter types of learning opportunities, as well as offering a range of financial and social support to address specific barriers to learning faced by low skilled and disadvantaged adults. 

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd recently called for a new government focus on helping people better themselves in work, moving to higher paid, higher-skilled roles.

In her Future of the Labour Market speech at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation yesterday, she said: “Automation is driving the decline of banal and repetitive tasks. So the jobs of the future are increasingly likely to be those that need human sensibilities, with personal relationships, qualitative judgement and creativity coming to the fore. And there is a clear role for government to help people take advantage of these changes, and to help businesses create high-quality jobs.”

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