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The impact of automation on social housing tenants

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Published: 28/02/2018   Last Updated: 26/06/2018  
Tags: Blog


The changing employment profile of a social tenant over the last generation from a job for life, high skilled role to a part-time and zero hours, low-skilled role is an impending crisis for social housing.  The level of automation taking over the low skilled, repetitive jobs is increasing year on year from supermarket checkouts being replaced with self-serve checkouts, to autonomous driving technology being expected to replace lorry drivers and taxi drivers within the next decade. 

Deteriorating affordability in housing is a central problem of the growing housing crisis.  This problem is being further exacerbated by the replacement of basic roles in warehouses, retail and customer services with robots and AI, causing this growth in low-paid, part-time, insecure employment including the rise of self-employment and zero hours contract.

However, conventional wisdom says that technology should also be seen as part of the solution as well as part of the problem.  Technological advances are creating as many opportunities for workers as it is taking away.  While the traditional role of machinist or check out worker or lorry driver may be disappearing or being threatened, new roles are being created. These roles will require people who are more technical skilled and can manage or operate automated systems.

The simple answer is to retrain those at risk of losing their roles too carry out the more sophisticated roles that interact with machines rather than roles that are being replaced by machines. The government has said it is committed to helping people secure "the jobs of tomorrow" with a national retraining scheme to help workers develop new skills.  It is wrong to assume that people can’t change and learn these new skills, they can. They have the ability to do this. But quite often what they are lacking is the capacity to make the change due to a lack of confidence and resilience to go through the change.  Housing associations are best placed to ensure local residents can take advantage of these opportunities by supporting them in to overcoming their barriers.

The education system is obviously key to the success of this change programme and it is recognised that it has a role in giving young people the skills to thrive in the future, and through lifelong learning to help adults adapt to the changing labour market. However, it is vital housing associations be part of this system as well as they have a key role both in identifying those at risk of being marginalised due to the rise of automation, as well as providing the key to unlock access to this group so support can be provided to those needing to make the change. Every regional skills and investment strategy must include housing associations as a key deliverer partner, otherwise it will fail to have the desired impact resulting in more people being left behind as the number of roles available to low-skilled people continues to shrink.