Preparing Northern Ireland for challenges posed by automation and ageing will cost £100 million a year until 2025, a UK think tank has claimed.
Stating that investment in education and lifelong learning was the single most important way to prepare the province for workplace and demographic change, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned major economic disruption was on the way.
“Automation and ageing will bring huge change to Northern Ireland over the coming years,” said director Russell Gunson.
“Second to Brexit, and once the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running, reform to education, learning and training must be a top priority for Northern Ireland.”
The report found 19% of workers under 25 are employed in insecure work - the highest in the UK.
A quarter (26%) of all workers earn less than the real living wage while, on average, only 2.5% escape low-skilled work each quarter, the lowest rate in the UK.
Half of jobs in Northern Ireland face high potential of change due to automation, while the number of pensioners will increase from 26 to 35 per 100 workers by 2040, the review added.
It said a 45,000 rise in the number of adult learners engaged in the skills system each year by 2025 would put participation rates in the province among the best in Europe at a cost of £90 million per year.
Similarly, a new learning account to support training and delivering pay increases and promotions for workers, dubbed progression accounts, would be worth £1,000 a year for up to 10,000 workers at a cost of £10m.
It also suggests a new compulsory skills participation age of 18, as opposed to the current school leaving ign age of 16 and an ambition to see all under-21s engaged in education or training in either the classroom or workplace.
The report also calls for a new £20m Productivity Credit fund for small businesses to boost investment in productivity-enhancing activities, sharing the transition costs between public and private funding.
“To be ready for automation and ageing, we will need to see significant increases in the number of workers upskilling and reskilling,” Mr Gunson added.
“We also need to see far fewer young people leave the education system into poor quality work, with poor prospects for the future.
“Every child should be engaged in learning, whether in the workplace or the classroom.
“There is no doubt that preparing for automation and ageing will be expensive and won’t come cheap.
“However, the costs of not investing could be far more significant than doing so.”