“A government that fails to prepare for automation is preparing to fail”

(Title Image: Marketforce Live)

Yesterday, the Senedd debated the findings of the Economy & Infrastructure Committee’s report on Industry 4.0 – a summary of which you can read here.

Eye-Opening

Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Mongomery) said this was one committee inquiry “where I had my eyes most open” and left him with one conclusion – if the government doesn’t prepare for automation it’s preparing to fail.

He was disappointed by some aspects of the Welsh Government’s response to the report.

“….as a committee, we’re clear that our aim and purpose is to drive change. Our recommendations are intended to change and improve Government policy. So, when our recommendations are accepted but the accompanying text makes it clear that our concerns are not changing behaviour, then I’m concerned.”
– Committee Chair, Russell George AM

Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) spoke of the progress made in relation to one of the report’s recommendations – making more of the Welsh diaspora and universities. Four universities are collaborating on a £15million supercomputer project. However, he would’ve liked to have heard more from the government on their plans for post-compulsory education as the Fourth Industrial Revolution will massively impact training and education.

Fascinating & Far-reaching

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) was particularly taken by the recommendation that a test bed be developed in Wales for new technologies.

“Of course, it’s not just a technology test bed, it’s a social innovation test bed, because you can’t really test technology until, actually, you put the humans into the picture as well. It’s how people interact with technology that is one of the key questions, and that’s why the exciting thing about building a real testbed, which is a testbed at a human scale in a new planned community, is that it allows you to actually capture that knowledge.”
– Adam Price AM

He mentioned MIT creating the first artificial intelligence college; he asked whether Wales can leapfrog into the future (having been slow on developing a software college) and do that ourselves?

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) underlined that women were particularly at risk in Industry 4.0, particularly those working in low-skilled jobs that can be easily automated, such as retail. She stressed the importance of reaching those who are hardest to reach to build their skills now so they won’t be left behind more so than they are now.

“It looks likely that the fourth industrial revolution is going to generate huge wealth, but it’s wealth that’s not going to be shared evenly. ….The Government’s response I think is poor. Two years ago, we agreed in an individual Member’s debate that the Government would publish a strategy on precision agriculture. That has yet to appear….when you look at what they say, they don’t seem to be willing to do anything different than they’re already doing. ”
– Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)

Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) said Flintshire could be hit particularly hard by automation in manufacturing – but we had to remain ambitious. He supported more radical policy options:

“But the question of how technological developments have impacted the core nature of our work is nothing new. It’s an age-old question and it stretches back to the first industrial revolution. So, let’s be bold, let’s look at options like the universal basic income as a supplementary solution, let’s look at how communities as a whole can benefit from the time that workers save through automation, making workers part of our communities again.”
– Jack Sargeant AM

Rethinking our approach

Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) said the changes are already coming, with CAF’s train factory in Newport being their first “fully digitised” manufacturing facility. An AI centre has also opened at Nantgarw in a partnership between M7 Managed Services and IBM.

He said he would continue to work with businesses to properly monitor and study emerging trends to give Wales a competitive edge but, calling back to the earlier debate on the foundational economy, he cautioned against “ceasing (government)support for innovation” by anchor companies, who are often key investors in new technologies.

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