Half of North's jobs could be ‘at risk from automation’

‘The future isn’t as bright as it used to be’, says industry chief of NI employment outlook

Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Allan Baxter/Getty Images

Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Allan Baxter/Getty Images


Nearly half a million jobs could be at risk from automation in the North over the next 10 years unless Northern Ireland “reboots” its future economic strategy, industry chiefs are warning.

According to the latest Connect Knowledge Economy Report, published on Thursday, profits, salaries and productivity are slowing in local knowledge-led industries and it highlights that automation will either be a massive opportunity or a big threat to Northern Ireland.

The report, which was independently produced by Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, is compiled each year by Connect, the nonprofit network of entrepreneurs and business leaders that is affiliated with Catalyst Inc, which operates Northern Ireland’s next generation science parks.

According to Steve Orr, director of Connect at Catalyst Inc, “the future isn’t as bright as it used to be” and the North needs urgently to invest and build on the foundations of the local knowledge economy that has taken root over the past decade.

Connect estimates that the knowledge economy currently employs one in 12 people – directly or indirectly – in Northern Ireland and for every single person employed in the knowledge economy nearly one more full-time job will be created elsewhere in different sectors.

But Mr Orr said the North now needs to take radical action to be well-positioned to take advantage of the global growth in technology and embrace the opportunities that automation may create.

Research suggests that 423,000 – or 50 per cent of jobs – could be at risk in Northern Ireland by 2030 – compared to 35 per cent in the rest of the UK.

Unrealised potential

The Connect knowledge economy report highlights that Northern Ireland’s knowledge economy activity is an estimated 20 per cent below the UK average, and although the North has attracted significant investment, the local knowledge economy has not yet delivered on its potential in terms of productivity and wages.

The report sets out what it identifies are the key challenges for Northern Ireland in the future, including the need to kick-start innovation and patent activity, build on R&D and fine-tune the North’s education system, from primary upwards, to meet the needs of a knowledge intensive economy.

Mr Orr believes the Connect report should be a “wake-up call for everyone”.

“The strength of our knowledge economy cannot be allowed to wither because we do not act on a well-indicated slowdown, particularly when refocusing investment on automation, and robotics will boost competitiveness and secure more jobs in the long term,” he said.

“A major rethink is also required on how we prepare our young people for work, since 65 per cent of today’s primary-school children will go on to jobs which don’t currently exist. We have to look closely at the skills which support employment in this age of technology, such as complex problem-solving, fluency of ideas, critical thinking and resilience.”