A new report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says the UK has two decades to prepare for the full impact of digitalisation. It proposes the creation of 1 million more manufacturing jobs to deal with the rapid technological changes.
The call comes in a new TUC report on the Industrial Strategy – All Tomorrow’s Jobs, which says that Britain has two decades to prepare for the full impact of digitalisation.
It says that sustainable industry and green technology could help deliver a significant number of the extra manufacturing jobs and that a more far-sighted industrial strategy could help manufacturing cope with the coming technological changes.
The report sets out five policy priorities to deliver its aims. These include using the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to create manufacturing employment; offering skills training to those ‘at risk of industrial disruption;’ greater trade union representation on the Industrial Strategy Council and on Sector Deals; using Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) to develop local growth strategies, and keeping the UK in the EU single market and customs union.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady says businesses, government and trade unions should work together to strengthen British manufacturing and high-tech industries. She says:
“We need a local industrial strategy for every town that has been held back. We need to train workers in the skills needed for tomorrow’s high-tech industries. And we need a Brexit deal that protects jobs – we are open to alternatives, but the best option currently looks like being in the single market and customs union.”
The TUC says successive British governments have allowed the manufacturing sector to decline in the belief that low-cost economies would cause the British manufacturing industry to lose any real value, and that the financial sector offered richer pickings.
The report says it “wished to test those assumptions,” and calls for, among other things, greater investment in Artificial Intelligence and greater emphasis on skills training, to accelerate productivity improvements and make the UK a top five digital economy by 2030.
By the same date, the TUC wants 50% of energy coming from renewable sources. It recommends investing clean technology in disadvantaged communities to help revive them, and to create a more sustainable manufacturing sector.
A more prominent role for trade unions is also recommended. The TUC point to how the relationships between German businesses and German trade unions are a noble example in how unions and employers cooperate to maximise the benefits and minimise risks brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
They note that: “German unions are engaged with their government and with employers on how to maximise the benefits, and minimise the risks, of the fourth industrial revolution. Airbus in Germany has negotiated an agreement with its unions which guarantees that no jobs will be lost, and no salaries cut, as a result of this technology.”
Full representation of trade unions on the Industrial Strategy Council and sector deals are recommended. So is a better focus on health and safety. In particular, the TUC are worried that the growing frequency of hybrid jobs, where humans cooperate with a robot or smart system to perform tasks, could cause more psychological problems for workers. As Maximilian Waclawczyk of the German metalworkers’ union, IG Metall writes in the report, “industrial policy is feasible within the meaning of good work and sustainable management.”
More and better skills training must be embraced to prevent low-skilled workers falling behind from the inexorable technological changes taking place. Maddie Scott from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, says employee upskilling is highly important to fully realise the benefits of 4IR.
Also, she says, there are not enough people coming into industry to cover those leaving, so companies “must look to the existing capabilities they have in their workforces…in order to make technology implementation a success and ultimately, to achieve their firm’s growth ambitions.”
The “report is about the future of manufacturing employment,” says the TUC. It notes that Britain has a rich industrial heritage and is home to world-class manufacturing companies, such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems. “Manufacturing employment has a bright future in the UK,” it remarks, “if guided by an intelligent industrial strategy, supported by employers and unions.”
Reporting by Harry Wise