UKIP supporters may be surprised to learn that the greatest danger to British jobs comes not from hordes of unskilled immigrants but from an army of hyper-intelligent machines, according to researchers from Oxford University and Deloitte.
The report states that 35% of British jobs (10.8 million) are going to be made redundant in the next 20 years by the inexorable rise of technology, automation and robotics. Occupations such as office administration, construction and sales are especially vulnerable, while the likes of skilled management, computing, healthcare, the arts and the media (phew!) are safe. Jobs earning under £30,000 are five times less likely to go than those earning £100,000, according to the report.
None of this should come as any surprise, of course. As the report points out, the efficiencies from IT and robotics have been costing jobs for decades. But will it really be a good thing?
Researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and James Martin believe that the UK and particularly London have a lot to gain so long as they remain flexible. ‘Skilled cities like London are incubators for new ideas and products. With the right policies, London can be at the front-line in developing the next generation of digital technologies,’ they said.
The significant boost technology will continue bring to economic growth and overall prosperity shouldn’t be sniffed at either.
However, while the idea of replacing your receptionist with someone more efficient and with a little more deterrence-value (a Dalek, say) might sound appealing, there are obviously downsides. If more and more low-skilled jobs are replaced by machines, what do the people who used to have them do? Barring some spectacular robotic overhaul of the education system, most people can’t be skilled managers, engineers or artists.
As Angus Knowles-Cutler of Deloitte pointed out, there could be considerable unemployment and under-employment. ‘A widening gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is also a risk as lower skill jobs continue to disappear,’ he said.
This may well only be true, of course, until the robots figure out how to run multi-national accountancy firms (or render them unnecessary altogether), but strangely the report didn’t touch on that.