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What are we doing to prepare for the impact of automation on the regions?

A report by the Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre in UCC ‘Automation and Irish Towns: Who’s Most at Risk’ found that two out of every five jobs in Ireland are at high risk of automation.  The report also found that the level of exposure to automation across Ireland is wide ranging, spanning towns across all four provinces and fourteen counties.  Some towns had an exposure to automation of 58% of all employment being at high risk of automation, while other towns had a lower risk of just 26%.  Towns where employment is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing are most at risk to the impact of automation on current employment.  The report recommends that regional and local coordination strategies across towns are developed to meet this challenge.  The spatial pattern of job risk to automation requires a flexible, localised approach to policy intervention. 

There have been a number of international studies on the impact of automation and robotics globally.  Generally these studies find that tens of millions of existing jobs will be lost, and that new jobs will be created, many in yet-to-exist industries.  The challenge we face is that the jobs that will be created will not necessarily be in the same regions where job losses will be felt.  This is an issue that has not received as much attention as it deserves.  A report released this week from Oxford Economics found that robotics and automation displace nearly twice as many jobs from lower income regions compared to high income regions within the same country.  Those regions most vulnerable to job losses are generally most distant from the wealthiest parts of the country.  The report also found that automation will continue to drive regional polarisation and exacerbate income inequality.  One significant finding from the report concerns the study of job moves of 35,000 workers over the course of their careers in the United States.  More than half of those workers who left production jobs moved into three occupational categories: transport, construction and administration.  These three occupational areas are among the most vulnerable to automation over the next decade. 

Low skilled workers and struggling local economies will bear the brunt of automation and will feel the impact of unemployment and income inequality the most.  This begs the question – what is Ireland doing to prepare for this?  How are we investing in the regions, in terms of infrastructure and social and human capital to ensure that we can meet the upheaval and adapt to the changes that are coming our way? 

In order to ensure rural Ireland and the regions can met these forthcoming challenges Social Justice Ireland believes that policy should:

  • Ensure that investment is balanced between the regions, with due regard to sub-regional areas;
  • Ensure rural development policy is underpinned by social, economic and environmental wellbeing;
  • Prioritise rolling out high speed broadband to rural areas;
  • Invest in an integrated, accessible and flexible rural transport network;
  • Ensure that development initiatives resource areas which are far from the major urban areas to ensure they do not fall further behind;
  • Invest in human capital through targeted education and training programmes, especially for older workers and those in vulnerable employment;
  • Provide integrated supports for rural entrepreneurs, micro-enterprises and SMEs;
  • Ensure public service delivery in rural areas according to the equivalence principle;
  • Move towards introducing a basic income system.