What kinds of jobs will be taken over by automation?

automation of unskilled jobsIn late March, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published its latest findings on the effects of automation on the jobs market.

It found that some 1.5 million jobs were at high risk from automation, but, tellingly, 70% of these roles were currently held by women. The next most at risk groups were part timers and young people.

The ONS calculates that around 710,000 jobs in the City may be taken over by automated technology, with around 39% of jobs in the accounting, legal and financial services sectors most likely to be automated and that 34% of roles in tax advice could be affected..

Waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations, are most likely to go, all roles defined as low-skilled or routine. Increasing numbers of factory workers are also at risk of being replaced by machines.

Least endangered are medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals, and senior professionals in education although many of their support functions such as data capture and preliminary assessments are already being done by computers.

Deeper analysis suggests that automation has already dispensed with some lower-skilled work because although the overall number of available jobs has increased, according to the ONS, these are in low or medium risk occupations.

According to Maja Korica, associate professor of organisation at Warwick Business School, 20% of the Amazon workforce, for example, may already be made up of robots.

Are the economy, employers and businesses prepared for the risk from automation?

While it seems that manufacturing is already moving ahead with automation, the question is whether there will be enough higher-skilled people available for the future.

The take-up of apprenticeships by business has repeatedly failed to hit targets set by the Government.

While the future for the economy is still so uncertain, many employers will continue to delay investment in the long term productivity benefits that automation offers.

In the short term, therefore, there continues to be a need for lower-skilled workers with demographic groups being overlooked by employers, according to Pawel Adrjan, a former Goldman Sachs economist who now works at the jobs group, Indeed.

He argues that employers will need to search across underemployed demographic groups (young people, single parents, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities) at least in the short term as more and more EU workers either leave the UK or decide not to come and work here.

Clearly, the economy and various sectors are still in a state of transition, so it may be that relatively low-skilled work will be around for a while yet. But when automation ramps up there will be a need for more skilled workers as operators. Despite the loss of some jobs, automation offers scope for everyone involved to benefit.

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