Bad news sells newspapers. So a story in the Daily Telegraph prophesying doom and disaster for over one third of the workforce is likely to get a lot of attention. The paper has latched on to a recent joint report from Deloitte and the University of Oxford that says that lower-paid jobs will be “eight times more likely to be wiped out than better paid ones ... over the next 10 to 20 years.” The reason? Simple – advances in technology will take over the more mundane, ‘robotic’ tasks that are currently done by humans.*
The study concentrates on London, but uses UK-wide data. Those most at risk include anyone in a job that involves repetitive processing, clerical duties and support services. In general, administration, sales, transportation, construction, mining, energy and production jobs are all under threat, but conversely those in computing, engineering and science** are ‘safest’ as are those in ‘creative’ industries where a robot/computer can’t (yet) keep up with human inventiveness.
This, of course, is nothing new. As the Telegraph notes, the opening ceremony at the London Olympics included a section where the Industrial Revolution brought chaos to the old world of craftsmen and artisans. Then there was the famous Ned Ludd and his Luddites, smashing weaving looms and other manufacturing machinery in an attempt to hold back the progress that led to this country becoming the ‘workshop of the world’.
However, as in the 19th century, and I’m not ignoring the fact that industrialisation also brought a lot of problems, with the right entrepreneurial spirit, backed by sensible, light-touch government, the end result should be one where far more people benefit, rather than suffer, from the march of technology.
Essentially, more jobs will need to be created as new industries and skills come to the market. Angus Knowles-Cutler, London senior partner at Deloitte, said “We need to be in the vanguard of technology and exploit our knowledge-based skills or face being left behind. We need to be educating people five to 10 years away from the workplace with these skills, as well as with the basic broad-based skills of working hard and being able to work well with others.”
Clearly, there will be a continuing, growing demand for talented IT professionals to drive forward this technological revolution. On the other hand, no-one wants to see huge increases in unemployment, caused by that same technological revolution. However, ultimately, we agree with Mr Knowles-Cutler’s assertion that, “The UK’s future global competitiveness depends on its ability to renew its primary sources of competitive advantage – people and technology – and this report sheds a timely and challenging light on the next wave of change already being embraced by the most forward-thinking businesses.” People and technology – we can do that!
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing
* ironic because the whole newspaper industry has seen thousands of redundancies due to improvements in technology
** doubly ironic because the Telegraph that day also included yet another story describing how Britain is suffering from a lack of science graduates…