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A 21st century skills system for Wales: challenges and opportunities

Automation Future of work Skilled workforce Wales

Wales is at the centre of a number of significant disruptions likely to bring long-term changes for its people and economy. Some of these are global in nature, such as automation and technological change. Some affect the whole UK – most obviously, the uncertainty around Brexit. Others come from within Wales, such as the rapid increases in its older population, which we will see expand over the coming years.

Automation is likely to have a significant impact on Wales over the coming years. Looking at those roles with the highest potential for automation, we find that 6.5 per cent of jobs in Wales, or 130,000 roles, have among the highest potential for automation – a rate higher than the UK average (6.2 per cent).

Equally, the effects of automation are not likely to be felt evenly. A higher proportion of women than men are in the roles with the highest potential for automation. Whereas women make up 48 per cent of workers in Wales, just under two-thirds (65.1 per cent) of the jobs at the highest risk of automation in Wales are performed by women.

For the people and economy of Wales to be ready for these very 21st century changes, we will need to see a 21st century skills system ready to equip Wales for the future.

A focus on young people will not be enough. 81.5 per cent of the workforce of 2030 in Wales, and 60.8 per cent of the workforce of 2040, have already left compulsory education. The response to automation will need to meet the skills needs of people of all ages.

This report also outlines the economic and policy context facing Wales, and attempts to set out some of the key challenges and opportunities to build a successful 21st century skills system. Almost without exception, the key solutions to meeting these challenges and opportunities rely on developing a skills system that can prepare people and employers for the future, and be ready to respond when significant and rapid change takes place. If Wales is to shape the impacts of these disruptions it will need a skills system ready to do so.

A number of positive attempts from decision-makers in Wales, including the Welsh government and Welsh assembly, aim to tackle some of these changes. Firstly, there have been a number of policy reviews in Wales in recent years that have begun to set out a new policy direction, for at least some parts of the skills system. Recent reviews around apprenticeships, employability, governance across the post-compulsory education sector, and for higher education funding and student finance have attracted a great deal of support and set out new directions for the system as a whole. Equally, college mergers in particular seem to have provided for a stronger college sector than would otherwise have been the case. In addition, a number of reviews have considered the future for Wales’ economy, particularly in the light of automation and technological change.

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