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IPPR - Skills reform needed as HALF of Scottish jobs at risk from automation, leading think-tank warns

Urgent reform is needed to deal with the rise of automation, which threatens half of Scottish jobs, a leading think-tank warns.

  • IPPR Scotland study finds 46% of jobs in Scotland – or 1.2 million – are at high risk of automation up to 2030 and beyond.
  • Scotland’s skills system needs to “retrofit” the workforce with the skills to be ready for technological change – 2.5 million adults in Scotland today (or 78%) will still be of working in 2030, report adds.
  • There is a clear gap in mid-career training and learning provision – our system focuses on early or pre-career learning, which will not be enough to ready Scotland for the future.
  • There is a ‘progression gap’ in the workplace, where low-skilled workers are less likely to see investment in their skills or training, and less likely to progress from low-skilled work than many other parts of the UK.
  • Report recommends Scotland needs a new learning route, the Open Institute of Technology, to provide mid-career provision, to boost progression, and to retrofit Scotland’s workforce.

The stark warning comes in a new report from IPPR Scotland, Scotland’s leading progressive think tank, and supported by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

Scotland’s Skills 2030 outlines the need to reskill Scotland’s workforce for the world of work in 2030.

With greater numbers of workers working for longer, due to demographic change, and in multiple jobs, multiple careers and for multiple employers, due to technological change, Scotland will need to retrofit the workforce with the skills required to compete in the future.

There are 2.5m working age adults today (78%), that have left compulsory education, that will still be of the working age by 2030, the study notes – adding they are likely to experience significant changes to the economy over this time, and will need support to learn new skills, retrain and upskill.

Meanwhile just under half (46.1%) of jobs in Scotland, or 1.2m jobs, are at high risk of automation over the next couple of decades. This brings a need for a skills system in Scotland that can work with people in jobs, throughout their careers, rather than solely at the start or before their careers have begun, the researchers warned.

Scotland has a clear gap in training and learning for people who have already started their careers, with a greater focus on younger people, and full-time provision in recent years. Employers are not plugging this gap, and too often pursue a low-skill business model.

IPPR Scotland is calling for a new mid-career learning route, called the Open Institute of Technology, to sit alongside apprenticeships and further education, to help to train the current workforce to be ready for the future challenges Scotland’s economy faces, the report concludes.

Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland, said:

“There are more than 2.5 million people already in the workforce today that will still be working by 2030. There are also 1.2m jobs in Scotland at risk of automation over the same time. Scotland urgently needs to design a skills system better able to work with people already into their careers to help them to retrain, reskill and respond to world of work of 2030.

“Scotland has a really strong record on skills in many ways, and in this report we find that Scotland is the highest skilled nation in the UK. However, our system has a clear gap in that we don’t have enough provision for people who have already started their careers, and employers are not investing to fill this gap. To respond to the huge changes facing Scotland around demographic, technological and climate change – and of course Brexit – we’re going to have to focus on retrofitting the current workforce to provide them with the skills they need, to deliver the inclusive economic growth we wish to see.

“Our report makes a number of recommendations to help Scotland plot a path through these challenges, to reform the skills system in Scotland, to help to secure an economy that delivers fairness and reduces inequality. Without reform of the skills system we could see changes to the economy harm whole sections of population, and whole communities, leaving many behind.”


A copy of the report can be found here, or contact Ash Singleton on or 07887 422 789.

To arrange a live or pre-record broadcast interview with IPPR Scotland director Russell Gunson, please contact him directly on or 07766 904 332.


IPPR Scotland’s report outlines a number of recommendations for reform:

1. An Open Institute of Technology – plugging mid-career provision gap

A new mid-career learning route with a mix of online provision and face to face provision delivered through existing providers in a fully flexible, transferable and modular approach. The route would be focused on delivering improved rates of career progression, pay and productivity, starting in low-skill sectors.

2. A focus on progression, pay and productivity - delivering clear outcomes at the national level

The skills system as a whole should be focused on improving Scotland’s rates of career progression, pay and productivity, moving to an outcome-based approach around these three Ps.

3. Progression Agreements - delivering outcomes at the classroom level

New tripartite agreements between learners, employers and skills providers should be introduced. Employers would agree to a form of career progression if learners meet certain learning outcomes, and in return the skills provider would fund provision (through public funding). This would bring a focus on progression and a test of learner and employer demand to the micro level.

4. Career Pathways - learner and employer co-design

Career Pathways should be developed in Scotland that outline the education, qualifications and skills required to progress through a range of careers, co-designed by learners and employers.

5. Qualifications review - improving flexibility and transferability

Skills qualifications should be reviewed to ensure they remain fit for their purpose – particularly in relation to FE – to explore the ability to modularise and place online more of the system, and to open up the transferability of qualifications across the full range of learning routes.

6. Innovation Academies - driving improved innovation and productivity through the skills system

Innovation Academies would be sector based, and would be tasked with driving productivity increases, and in taking the work undertaken by colleges and skills providers every day and harnessing its potential to bring innovation to business practices in Scotland.

7. Business investment, Apprenticeship Levy and Business Taxes - the specific role of employers

Business investment has been declining across the UK. With the introduction of the UK-wide Apprenticeship Levy we need to see investment increase, and further work to encourage and enable employers to adopt high-skill business models. To encourage this, the Scottish government should consider how business tax allowances could be used to encourage investment in skills by employers.

8. Progression Unit – tackling the ‘progression gap’

The report identifies a ‘progression gap’ – the low levels of career progression for low skilled workers in Scotland – which we suspect is related to the attainment gap at school, and the fair access gap in post-16 education. Improving progression rates will also work to tackle rates of in-work poverty and drive social mobility in Scotland. A new Progression Unit would be tasked with researching, monitoring and evaluating activity designed to close this progression gap.

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