The UK’s leading progressive think-tank has made an urgent call for a “lifelong learning revolution” to prepare Wales for the “rapid changes” that automation, an ageing population, Brexit and changes to globalisation are likely to bring.
In a report published, ahead of a keynote public event on economic justice in Wales (see notes), researchers at IPPR found that 130,000 jobs in Wales have a “high potential” for automation.
At the same time, Wales’ population will age significantly. The report sets out that by the late 2030s, for every 10 people of working age there will be four pensioners – the highest ratio in the UK, and significant increases on now.
Whilst the IPPR say that this is “a triumph of public policy over many generations”, they warn too that pressure will increase on the working age population and on public services.
Researchers have also pointed to uncertainties surrounding Brexit – including doubts over European funding to the Welsh skills system, changes in immigration patterns which may worsen skills shortages and gaps, and how economic changes will affect employers’ ability to invest in skills.
The report finds that these will cause significant changes to Wales’ economy over the coming years. These changes will mean that Wales will need to build an ambitious 21st century skills system – across schools, colleges, in-work learning and universities – which should prioritise career progression, pay and productivity, to get the most out of the remaining working age population.
As well as challenges, IPPR pointed to some positive signs in the Wales economy, including increases in high skilled jobs in recent years, and potential signs that economic inactivity is reducing dramatically. The report finds that the Welsh Government have made some good steps on skills, including new Degree Apprenticeships, wider apprenticeship reforms and reforms to employability programmes.
Crucially, to get ready for automation, ageing and Brexit, IPPR says that the Welsh Government needs to go further, to deliver a “lifelong learning revolution” to build a skills system, across post-compulsory learning, ready for these significant challenges facing Wales.
Jack Fawcett, a Researcher at IPPR, said:
“Wales is changing. Automation, an ageing population, and Brexit are all going to continue to transform Wales and its economy over the coming years.
“That’s why it’s so important to plan and act now. The Welsh skills system is key to taking the challenges facing Wales head on, and making the most of the opportunities these rapid changes will bring. But over 81% of the population have already left compulsory education, so it’s clear that the solutions cannot lie with compulsory education alone.
“The Welsh Assembly and Government have already taken steps in the right direction by initiating a number of reviews and some recent policy changes. But they’re not yet enough to tackle the significant and rapid changes on the horizon. Wales needs a lifelong learning revolution, with action from employers and government, to match the scale of these challenges with a similar scale of ambition.”