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January 30, 2018

What robot uprising? UK cities no more at risk of automation than 100yrs ago

Jobs of the future will consist of non-routine work requiring social and cognitive skills.

By Sabrina Dougall

A new report considering the impact of disruptive technologies in automation, AI and machine learning on the UK economy has predicted a surge in jobs across the country.

Smart machines will precipitate an increase in jobs across both the public and private sectors, thus replacing any jobs lost to technology, according to the new research from a Gatsby Foundation-funded charity.

Urban areas in northern Britain are more exposed to job losses than those in the south. Nevertheless, researchers found the economic trend is not new; cities have been at risk of job market change owing to automation and globalisation for more than a century.

“Cities are no more at risk of automation today than they were a hundred years ago,” the report found. Data analysts also noted that globalisation has also shaped the labour market, impacting northern Britain more so than automation over the past century.

Analysis from the Centre for Cities found jobs that have mostly been replaced by automation since 1911 were: domestic helps, messengers, telephone operators and news vendors. In 2018, the types of jobs available in have multiplied, with 52 cities seeing more jobs in total and 27 experiencing a twofold increase in workforce size.

Growth in jobs, 1911-2016. Source: University of Portsmouth, NB: Basildon, Crawley and Milton Keynes have been excluded from this map because they are new towns.

Researchers found all cities will see jobs created 2018-2030, with no particular geographical bias. Half of these are likely to be in the public sector. The remaining 50% is split between high-skilled (24%) and lower-skilled (26%) private sector roles.

Although less exposed to at-risk occupations, big cities should still expect disruption. Around 908,000 jobs in London – a quarter of all jobs in UK cities – are set to be replaced by machine staff. In areas such as Mansfield, Sunderland, Wakefield and Stoke, just shy of 30% of the current workforce is in an occupation very likely to decrease by 2030.

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One in five jobs across UK cities is in an occupation that is very likely to shrink. This amounts to roughly 3.6 million jobs – 20% of the current urban workforce.

Types of jobs most at risk are: sales and retail cashiers, administrative occupations, customer service roles, finance administrators and elementary storage occupations (ie cargo handlers).

Other occupations significantly at risk include assemblers and routine operatives in Oxford and Swindon; plant and machine operatives in Aberdeen and process operatives in Huddersfield.

That said, researchers also found government policy did not support the most vulnerable cities. Instead, roles in low skilled, low wage occupations proliferated. In the main, jobs of the future will consist of non-routine work requiring social and cognitive skills. As a result, scientists from Centre For Cities have urged Westminster to prepare the next generation with relevant technical skills in readiness for further labour market transformation.

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“Those least able to adapt need to be given adequate compensation for their job loss but should also be given retraining,” the report recommended.

In the 2017 autumn budget, Philip Hammond pledged £30m in digital skills distance learning courses and a further £20m to support the introduction of T-levels. Hammond also ringfenced £100m to train 8,000 more computer science teachers.

“Reskilling and upskilling must become the norm, and it’s essential that we equip young people to face the future of work,” said Gerard Grech, Chief Executive Officer, Tech City UK in light of the release. “As this report highlights, the opportunity is a big one; the UK’s digital economy is worth $100bn.”

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