Policymakers are being urged to invest in skills as a way of helping workers prepare for the impact of automation.
A new report has urged a rethink of funding for skills and training as it set out four different scenarios for the future and how the growth of technology could affect the workplace by 2035.
In one scenario, dubbed the exodus economy, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) report says a recession could lead to growing unemployment and the imposition of austerity measures.
In this situation, the study suggests “disgruntled with ebbing living standards, many workers take to the streets, bringing the economy to a standstill”.
Meanwhile, in the big tech economy scenario, it forecasts rapid advancement of new technologies could lead to both both blue and white-collar workers losing their jobs.
The report predicts “driverless tractors plough fully automated farms” and “machine-learning algorithms outperform professionals in finance and insurance”.
With unemployment rising, it says workers would need to reskill – but adds some may be “lucky to find 20 hours a week of work, performing one of a few menial tasks that robots cannot”.
By 2035, Scotland’s economy will “probably have some characteristics” from all four of the different scenarios set out in the report, the RSA said.
It said the “real question for the Scottish skills system now is how can it harness the opportunities the scenarios present and mitigate the risks”.
The report recommends several measures, including reskilling those workers most at risk from automation.
It stresses the need to find the teachers of the future as “to keep up with increasing demand for retraining, Scotland will need more high-quality teachers”.
The report also highlights the importance of supporting economically insecure workers, who is say may lack the necessary funds to improve their skills.
Fabian Wallace Stephens, a senior researcher at the RSA Future Work Centre said: “We’re excited by tech-driven approaches to easing the access to skills training but more needs to be done.
“Government, private sector and third-sector organisations need to work together to create a resilient economy and tackle the precarity faced by Scottish workers.”
Damien Yeates, the chief executive of Skills Development Scotland (SDS), said: “None of us can predict the future but we can prepare for it.”
He added: “The rapid advancements of Industry 4.0, along with other social and economic challenges, will fundamentally change the world of work.
“This report by the RSA helps us to think about the skills and capacities we will need to thrive in a world that will be profoundly different to that of today.
“SDS is already thinking about what action we need to take to prepare people and business to thrive in the global economy and this report is a useful tool for exploring possible futures and discussing how individuals, employers and the skills and learning system can respond in a way that is agile and resilient.”