Image: World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebell Image: World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebell

Around 30 per cent of existing UK jobs will be lost to automation and robots, suggests PwC, but new jobs will be created elsewhere in the economy.

Here are the key PwC predictions

  • Up to around 30 per cent of existing UK jobs are susceptible to automation from robotics and Artificial Intelligence by the early 2030s.
  • But PwC expect even more jobs to be affected in the US and Germany – 38 and 35 per cent, respectively, but slightly less in Japan.
  • Automation is likely to have a greater effect in transport, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail.
  • But automation is likely to have less effect on jobs in education, health and social work.
  • Male workers are at greater risk than women.
  • Automation will boost productivity and wealth.
  • But inequality may rise.
  • On the plus side, in many cases the nature of jobs will change rather than disappear.
  • Economic, legal and regulatory constraints may restrict the pace and extent of increases in automation in practice.
  • These changes will put a premium not only on education levels when entering the workforce, but also the ability to adapt over time and re-skill throughout working life in the face of an accelerating pace of technological change.
It’s interesting to note that the two G7 economies which have the lowest levels of productivity, the UK and Japan are expected to see less job losses as a result of robotics.

At a superficial glance, it’s hard to tell whether this is good or bad. We don’t want to see job losses, but we do not want to see more growth in productivity.

Rising inequality is not good, and note how many of the jobs that are less likely to be affected by automation – social work, health and education are quite poorly paid. Indeed, if David Cameron’s Big Society idea went ahead, many of these jobs may become voluntary.

But potential jobs losses and rises in inequality is not a reason to try and block robotics, rather it is a reason to apply a bit more creative thinking in how we can make this more advantageous for the society as a whole.

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, commented: “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.

“Automating more manual and repetitive tasks will eliminate some existing jobs, but could also enable some workers to focus on higher value, more rewarding and creative work, removing the monotony from our day jobs. By boosting productivity - a key UK weakness over the past decade - and so generating wealth, advances in robotics and AI should also create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as this extra wealth is spent or invested.

“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.”