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Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 8, 2018 | Go to article overview

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"RISE of robots puts 11,000 jobs at risk in Wales" was a striking Western Mail front page headline last week.

The article explained that this number of jobs could disappear as a result of automation and globalisation in Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea in just 12 years.

Is this science fiction? Definitely not; we are already experiencing the trends in our banking and shopping. We also know how the pace of automation in industry is accelerating.

Is this over alarmist? Will children who have just started in secondary school find, before they are 25 years of age, that about 25% of the jobs their parents are employed in will no longer exist? For the same reasons, this forecast is certainly plausible even if startling.

The UK Industrial Strategy sees this problem from a different angle, that of "productivity".

The UK has notably low levels of productivity compared with similar countries and the emphasis in the strategy is upon improving productivity to make the UK more globally competitive and to increase the earning power of people.

Technology is a major factor in boosting productivity and hence the link between productivity and robots putting jobs at risk.

The key point is that there are globally-driven changes underway in how businesses and industry function and this creates rapidly escalating challenges for governments, schools, colleges, and universities.

In particular, it is largely the low skills jobs which will disappear but demand for higher skills will continue to increase.

Many countries are embracing these changes at pace. South Korea is proposing that about 70% of young people should proceed to higher education; the figure in Wales is currently less than half that and the lowest rate within the UK.

The good news is that these skills and productivity challenges are not a surprise and higher education has been adapting to help address them as an integral part of our evolution to meet the needs of the country. And how can we fulfil our commitment to prepare students "for a good career and a good life" if we do not respond to the expected future pattern of demand for skills? I can give some examples from my own university. Ten years ago we decided to double the size of our School of Engineering. This was a bold move at the time because applications to study engineering in the UK had declined over many years. …

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