Preparing for automation and ageing 'will cost Northern Ireland £100 million a year'

Preparing Northern Ireland for the challenges posed by automation and ageing will cost £100m a year until 2025, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

PREPARING Northern Ireland for challenges posed by automation and ageing will cost £100 million a year until 2025, a think tank said.

The skills system is not ready for the economic disruption caused by workplace and demographic change, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) added.

It warned investing in education and lifelong learning was the single most important way to get Northern Ireland ready.

Director Russell Gunson said: "Automation and ageing will bring huge change to Northern Ireland over the coming years.

"Our research shows that investment in education and training, and lifelong learning in particular, will be one of the single most important ways to get Northern Ireland ready to take the advantages of these changes.

"Second to Brexit, and once the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running, reform to education, learning and training must be a top priority for Northern Ireland."

The report found:

- 19 per cent of workers under-25 are employed in insecure work - the highest in the UK.

- 26 per cent of all workers in Northern Ireland are paid under the real living wage.

- On average, only 2.5 per cent of workers in Northern Ireland escape low-skilled work each quarter, the lowest rate in the UK. Low-paid work too often becomes a low-paid career.

Half of jobs in Northern Ireland face high potential of change due to automation, while the number of pensioners will increase from 26 to 35 per 100 workers by 2040, the review said.

The IPPR called for the introduction of an Automation and Ageing Taskforce, to set out a vision and strategy for Northern Ireland to prepare for these challenges.

It urged an increase by 45,000 in the number of adult learners engaged in the skills system each year by 2025 - bringing participation rates in Northern Ireland to among the best in Europe - at a cost of £90m a year.

The organisation said a new Learning Account to support training that delivers pay increases and promotions for workers in Northern Ireland, called Progression Accounts, would be worth £,1000 a year for up to 10,000 workers at a cost of £10 million per year.

It suggested a new compulsory skills participation age of 18, to replace the current school-leaving age of 16 and an ambition to see every young person under 21 engaged in education or training, whether in the workplace or the classroom.

It also called for a new £20 million per year Productivity Credit for small businesses to boost business investment in productivity-enhancing activities, including skills - sharing the transition costs between public and private funding.

Mr Gunson added: "To be ready for automation and ageing, we will need to see significant increases in the number of workers upskilling and reskilling, taking Northern Ireland up to among the highest numbers of adult learners in education and training in Europe.

"We also need to see far fewer young people leave the education system into poor quality work, with poor prospects for the future.

"Every child in Northern Ireland should be engaged in learning, whether in the workplace or the classroom.

"There is no doubt that preparing for automation and ageing will be expensive and won't come cheap.

"However, the costs of not investing could be far more significant than doing so."

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