Technology To Automate A Third Of U.K. Jobs Over Next 20 Years, Says Deloitte

Technology, automation and robotics destroys jobs by replacing human work with machines, and demanding workforces change up their skills to remain employable. This we know.

But a new study by professional services firm Deloitte has quantified the rate of destruction for the U.K. jobs market over the next 20 years — predicting that around one-third (35 per cent) of existing jobs across the U.K. are under high risk of replacement via automation over this time period.

The research was carried out by Deloitte with Carl Benedikt Frey, of the Oxford Martin School, and Michael A Osborne, of the Department of Engineering Science, at the University of Oxford. It follows a 2013 study conducted by Frey and Osborne on automation in the U.S. job market. That study estimated that 47% per cent of U.S. employment is at risk of automation.

The U.K. study links job destruction to rates of pay, with lower-paid jobs (paying less than £30,000) more than five times more likely to be replaced than higher-paid jobs (paying over £100,000).

This link between lower paid jobs and automation suggests technology risks fueling growing wealth inequalities — unless education and training can be successfully reconfigured to upskill populations with the digital, management and creative skills that are at reduced risk of automation.

The study found that lower paid jobs are almost eight times as likely to be replaced than higher paid jobs when looking specifically at London. Overall, though, the rate of tech-fueled destruction drops to 30 per cent of jobs specifically in London — likely owing to higher rates of pay in the capital vs the rest of the U.K.

Some 40 per cent of U.K. jobs are rated as low or no risk. In London this figure rises to 51 per cent of jobs.

In the high risk corner, the research lists jobs like office and admin support; sales and services; transportation; construction and extraction; and production. While jobs identified as low or no risk jobs include skilled management; financial services; computing, engineering and science; education; legal services; community services; the arts and media; and healthcare.

Commenting on the study findings, Frey described skilled cities like London as “incubators for new ideas and products” but noted the city would need to manage a relatively rapid process of workforce transition.

“With the right policies, London can be at the front-line in developing the next generation of digital technologies,” he said in a statement. “To remain a world leading city, London needs to manage the transition of its workforce into new occupations and industries, as it has done so successfully in the past. While the scope of potential job automation is rapidly expanding, London’s workforce is relatively resilient to these developments.”

The research was conducted between September and October this year, and is based on interviews with senior individuals from 100 business and public sector bodies either exclusively based in London (60% per cent) or with premises and operation outside London (40 per cent).

Another finding from the research is that a substantial majority (73 per cent) of London businesses intend to increase their headcount over the next five years, with a majority (51 per cent) saying they will add at least 10 per cent to current staff numbers.

A very large majority (84 per cent) of London businesses said the skills of their employees will need to change over the next 10 years, with ‘digital know-how’, ‘management’ and ‘creativity’ identified as skills increasingly in need, and ‘processing,’ ‘support and clerical work’ and ‘foreign languages’ less so.

The study underlines the importance of the U.K. government’s decision to put in place a tech-oriented computing curriculum earlier this year, along with its backing for initiatives such as the U.K.’s Year of Code. Teaching the next generation the skills required by workplaces in the coming decades is a long term project — and all the more imperative for it.