Automation and AI require education and training, says CBI

Industry and government must collaborate on skills and retraining to get to grips with new innovations, CBI conference told

New technological developments such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) require a huge programme of education and training to avoid inequality, says CBI president Paul Drechsler. 

Speaking at the CBI annual conference today, Drechsler called for industry and government to collaborate to ensure no one is left behind as automation comes in.

According to studies, more than 35% of jobs will be automated in the future, said Drechsler, which “has huge workplace implications – but it also has huge implications for inequality”.

“The low-skilled jobs that disappear will be replaced by high-skilled jobs, responsible for oversight and management,” he said. “This is more than a step-change. It is a completely new era, and one that will require a massive programme of education and training.

“So business, government and trade unions must work together and make sure that our economy and our employees are able to adapt.”

A recent CBI survey of more than 400 firms revealed a general consensus among businesses that the government’s new industrial strategy, due later this month, needs to tackle the challenges and benefits brought by people, infrastructure and innovation.

But the survey also found that Brexit remains one of the main concerns in industry, with 39% of respondents worried about what Brexit will look like, and 54% concerned about the country’s uncertain economic outlook. 

The CBI has called on the government to set up a joint, independent commission on AI with both business and employee representatives “to better understand the impact on people’s lives, jobs and future economic growth”, as well as create an independent industrial strategy office to measure and monitor the strategy’s performance.  

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CBI director general Carolyn Fairbarn said: “We can’t afford to let Brexit distract us from the action needed to ensure British firms can compete and win in the new technology age. 

“What is at stake is the UK’s future in a global economy redefined by artificial intelligence and automation. Brexit must not be allowed to crowd this out. Firms agree on what matters most: transforming the UK’s skills base, modernising its physical and digital infrastructure and accelerating innovation. But they also agree that catching up is not enough.”

Fairbairn added: “A leapfrog industrial strategy is within reach but is not easy and will require a partnership of the century between government and business. Nobody wants to have this conversation again in four years’ time, and jobs and opportunity won’t wait around.

“With the pace of change of technology accelerating, business and government must move quickly, together, to transform innovation, skills and infrastructure to boost all sectors and regions.”

Speaking at the conference, prime minister Theresa May said she wants Britain to be “an international centre for transformative technologies of the future”, and that the government is already playing its part by increasing public sector support for R&D to record levels.

Also speaking at the conference, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would invest £1.3bn on R&D in its first two years in government.

“Labour’s industrial strategy, built on national missions – for energy transition and to increase R&D spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 – will lay down the challenges to business and provide the foundations on which they can be met,” said Corbyn.

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