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Calls for switch of focus

New skills vision ‘vital’ to meet robotics challenge

Polly Purvis

Polly Purvis: ‘automation provides a huge economic opportunity’

Scotland needs to rethink its approach to education and training to reap the benefits of robotics and other forms of artificial intelligence, according to a new report.

A panel of economics and business leaders says the country has to be better prepared for the challenges of automation and digital disruption which will shape the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

SCDI, BT Scotland, ScotlandIS and the Royal Society of Edinburgh are calling on governments, industry and civic organisations to provide strategic leadership and involve all parts of society in creating a national vision and action plan to guide Scotland through the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Their report, Automatic…For the People? was informed by automation and digitalisation analysis from the Fraser of Allander Institute and identifies new business and employment opportunities as well as the areas of economic activity that are most likely to be exposed to digital changes in Scotland.

The report includes 12 key recommendations on how Scotland can boost productivity and generate higher inclusive economic growth against a background of a reducing working age population.

Dr Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, said: “Technological change will have a major impact on the Scottish economy over the coming decades. 

“Some roles and tasks may change beyond recognition. This will no doubt bring some significant challenges. But it will also create new opportunities. Taking advantage of these opportunities – with the right policies and business ambition – has the potential to turn around Scotland’s recent productivity performance.”

Matt Lancashire, director of policy at SCDI, said: “The report highlights the need for a national discussion about a Fourth Industrial Revolution strategy. 

“The timing of this report is pivotal as Scotland is at a crossroads. There is a lot of good work on automation and digitalisation across the country but there needs to be an inclusive, joined-up strategy – with economic and social dimensions – as is being adopted in frontrunner countries.”

Mark Dames, head of policy and public affairs at BT Scotland, said: “If Scotland is to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the country needs to become a truly digital nation, able to adopt new technologies quickly and adapt them for economic and social gain.

“Our education system will need to shift towards a focus on digital skills from the early years onwards and our workforces will need to continually upskill, so they can respond to highly disruptive marketplaces.”

Polly Purvis, CEO at ScotlandIS, added: “Automation will enable more and more businesses and public-sector organisations to increase productivity and free up staff time to concentrate on more valuable elements of their work.

“It provides a huge economic opportunity for Scotland and one that we are increasingly well placed to harness with our innovative digital technologies companies, world-class computing science research base and skilled technology workforce.

“However, we need to consider and test longer-term policy options, such as reduced working hours and a job guarantee, to ensure inclusive growth across Scotland in the future.”

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