Over the next 20 years, Ten million British jobs could be taken over by computers and robots, wiping out more than one in three roles.
Low-paid, repetitive positions are most likely to go, with people earning less than £30,000 a year five times more likely to see their jobs taken over by machines than those paid £100,000, new research has warned.
Huge advances in technology risks creating an under-class of low-skilled people whose jobs have been automated, according to a joint report from Deloitte, the Big Four accountancy firm, and the University of Oxford.
The research predicts that as much as 35pc of jobs across the country will be made redundant by technical advances over the next 10 to 20 years – some 10.8m positions. According to the latest official data, 30.76m people are employed in the UK.
The study, which contains data for all of the UK but focuses on London, says the lower-paid jobs in the capital are eight times more likely to be wiped out than better paid ones.
Overall, workers in London are seen as being safer than those in the rest of the UK, with the study predicting 30pc of jobs will go in the capital. This is because London has fewer manufacturing jobs – a sector likely to face greater automation – as well as a higher proportion of jobs which are creative or require greater skills and knowledge that are less susceptible to being taken on by machines because they cannot replicate human thought.
Angus Knowles-Cutler, London senior partner at Deloitte, said: “Technological advances are likely to cause a major shift in the UK labour market in the coming decades. Unless these changes are fully understood and anticipated, there will be a risk of avoidable unemployment and under-employment.
“A widening gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is also a risk as lower skill jobs continue to disappear.”
Positions that are most likely to go are those that entail repetitive processing, clerical duties and support services and in sectors such as administration, sales, transportation, construction, mining, energy and production.
The ‘safest’ jobs include those in computing, engineering and science as people are needed to develop and service the technologies taking over from humans. Also expected to resist the advance are roles which need creative thought or interpersonal skills, such as positions in skilled management, arts and media, law, education, healthcare and financial services.
Mr Knowles-Cutler said the proportion of positions expected to disappear was so large it surprised the researchers, driving them to check if technology had already started to wipe out jobs.
“In London we found that since 2001 65pc of librarians have gone, almost half of all PAs and secretaries, it’s incredible,” he said.
However, Mr Knowles-Cutler said that as well as jobs being eliminated, the survey found that new jobs will be created as new industries and positions spring up, along with jobs requiring the skills that machines are unable to match.
This job creation has the potential to outnumber the losses, he said: “We’re currently losing about 2pc to 3pc of jobs a year in London but these are being replaced by higher skilled jobs.
“Over the next seven years in London we will have 300,000 net new jobs being created – a lot of jobs will go but a lot more will come into existence.”
Making sure new jobs outnumber those being eliminated requires creating a workforce able to service the high-skilled positions that technology is unlikely to take over, the study found.
“We are in a battle to make sure that for every job lost one is created,” Mr Knowles-Cutler said, adding the country had successfully dealt with similar challenges several times before, most notably the industrial revolution.
“The UK is well placed for this – in London we have highest level of graduates in the workforce in the EU, there’s been a lot of investment in robotics in industry so we’re not reliant on cheap labour,” he said.
The study found of all the major cities in the world London has the highest number of skilled jobs – almost 1.5m, compared with second place New York at 1.12m – that are seen as being safe from technological advance, and indicates that Britain already has an advantage over other nations.
However, the report showed that Britain must start preparing now to deal with the coming changes. It found the skills employers most want from staff are digital know-how, management, creativity, entrepreneurship and problem-solving – all abilities unlikely to be replaced by developments in technology.
“We need to be in the vanguard of technology and exploit our knowledge-based skills or face being left behind,” Mr Knowles-Cutler said. “We need to be educating people five to 10 years away from the workplace with these skills, as well as with the basic broad-based skills of working hard and being able to work well with others.”
The destruction and creation of jobs also means that the future workforce can expect to have several different careers, as positions are eliminated and new ones replace them, the research found, placing a premium on workers’ ability to adapt to new challenges.
Professor Stephen Bevan, of Lancaster University’s Work Foundation think-tank, said: “This echoes the development of the so-called ‘hourglass’ labour market with mid-level and semi-skilled jobs in decline, requiring employees to develop new skills that allow them to adapt to change.
“The UK’s future global competitiveness depends on its ability to renew its primary sources of competitive advantage – people and technology – and this report sheds a timely and challenging light on the next wave of change already being embraced by the most forward-thinking businesses.”
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