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March 24, 2017updated 23 Mar 2017 4:39pm

Automation to hit 30% of UK jobs – and male workers will suffer most

As many as 30% of UK jobs could be at risk of automation by the year 2030.

By Joe Clark

According to PwC‘s UK Economic Outlook report, as many as 30% of UK jobs could be affected by automation in the next 15 years.

However, the report found that instead of entirely replacing UK jobs, robotics and AI will force change in the nature of jobs – meaning that these jobs will not disappear. The spread of automation should be offset by gains elsewhere in the economy, with the report forecasting productivity gains from the adoption of the technology.

PwC estimates that automation will vary wildly between different sectors. Transportation and storage (56%), manufacturing (46%) and wholesale and retail trade (44%) have the highest proportion of jobs facing potential high risks of automation among the larger sectors. Education and health and social work are estimated to face the lowest risks of automation given the relatively high proportion of tasks that are hard to automate.

Sources: ONS workforce jobs survey for employment shares (2016); PwC estimates for last column using PIAAC data from OECD. High risk of automation is defined as 70% or over based on technical feasibility considerations only.

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, said: “A key driver of our industry-level estimates is the fact that manual and routine tasks are more susceptible to automation, while social skills are relatively less automatable. That said, no industry is entirely immune from future advances in robotics and AI.”

“The UK employment rate is at its highest level now since comparable records began in 1971, despite all the advances in digital and other labour-saving technologies we have seen since. It is not clear that the future will be radically different from the past in terms of how automation will affect overall UK employment rates.”

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The potential impact of job automation also varies according to the characteristics of individual workers. On average, PwC estimates that a higher proportion of male jobs (35%), particularly those of men with lower levels of education, are at higher potential risk of automation than female jobs (26%). This reflects the fact that relatively highly automatable sectors such as transportation and storage and manufacturing tend to have high proportions of men working in them.

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The UK is also unlikely to be the country most affected by these changes. In the US and Germany up to 38% and 35% of jobs are expected to face automation respectively. Though the UK is more susceptible to these changes than Japan, in which 21% of jobs could be affected.

Jon Andrews, head of technology and investments at PwC, said: “There’s no doubt that AI and robotics will rebalance what jobs look like in the future, and that some are more susceptible than others. What’s important is making sure that the potential gains from automation are shared more widely across society and no one gets left behind.”

“Responsible employers need to ensure they encourage flexibility and adaptability in their people so we are all ready for the change.”

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