SCOTLAND can mitigate the worst economic effects of automation – including the loss of almost one-third of the country’s jobs – by restructuring its economy and learning from Nordic approaches to manufacturing, according to a new report.

Disruptive Technologies: the impact on workers in Scotland, from the Common Weal think tank, analyses the rise of robots until 2030 and highlights the sectors which are more prone to automation.

Author Craig Berry, an electrical design engineer, said technological change would arrive in three waves over the next decade – algorithm, augmentation and autonomy – with differences in expected automation levels across four country groups: industrial and service economies, Asian and Nordic countries. Those with a greater concentration in industrial sectors tend to have a higher potential for automation.

“Automation is going to have an increasingly significant effect on the Scottish economy,” Berry told The National.

COMMENT: Why we must act now to avoid the negative effects of automation

“Up to 30% of jobs could be lost to automation by 2030 in Scotland as technology advances. This is expected to hit hardest: migrant workers; low-wage employees; and people within lower social grades. Scotland has an opportunity to restructure the way its economy is run and who it is run for.

The National:

“Through an investment-led economy with an innovation strategy, Scotland can work with the machines and run for public vales as opposed to private profit.”

Berry’s report says the potential for high levels of automation varied across industry sectors, but the effect on each varied, depending on how sectors interacted with the technology waves.

“The top five industries at risk of automation in Scottish industry make up 35% of employment,” said the report.

“However, we can expect further decreases throughout other industries, such as mining, quarrying and utilities – which includes Scotland’s oil and gas industry.”

With EU nationals accounting for 10% of all employment in manufacturing, 12% in accommodation and food services and non-UK nationals making up 8.3% of the total workforce, there is a greater risk that Scotland’s non-UK workforce could be threatened by potential automation rates compared with UK nationals in Scotland, the report goes on.

Machine operators and assemblers have a high potential for automation during the autonomy wave, Berry says, with clerical workers at greater risk during the algorithm and augmentation waves. He expects professional workers, including senior managers, to be at lower risk of automation.

However, he said that to deliver smart, sustainable economic growth, we have to focus on rebalancing from consumer debt-driven growth towards an investment-led model and understand growth as a reward from effective innovation. Parts of the world, such as the Nordic region, have been successful in preventing some of the worst effects of auto-mation by investing in research and development and not being focused on “investment-led growth”.

“In terms of automation, Scotland would see significant benefit in attempting to replicate some of the Nordic-style approaches to manufacturing,” Berry says. “The earlier this is imposed, the more job losses can be mitigated.

The National:

“Scotland focusing its economy on the investment in its people can give it a competitive advantage in regard to automation.”

Berry says the Scottish National Investment Bank could be used to create a “demand-led innovation strategy” to develop national companies to drive investment into the Scottish economy, which would encourage growth and jobs.

He says it would be wrong to assume this resolves long-term issues because technology advances constantly, but the model would create the capability to constantly work with technology as it injected capital into the economy, ensuring that jobs were sustained.

He adds: “Looking at Scotland from an economic perspective, the creation of an independent Scotland is an important aspect of this report.

“There are areas in this report which are excluded from Scotland as part of the UK, meaning that Scotland is limited in its ability to redefine its economy from the failed UK economic model.

“Through independence, Scotland can gain the powers necessary to become an entrepreneurial state and begin investing in its people.”