Ten years ago, the phrase ‘unexpected item in the packing area’ would have been meaningless.  Today, it’s a frustratingly familiar accompaniment as we scan and pack our shopping bags.  The trend for increased automation is set to continue as Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) predicts 30% of UK jobs could be at risk of mechanisation within the next 15 years.  This blog explores what automation is, which jobs it will impact and which jobs are likely to be safe.

What is Automation and Who Will It Impact?

Automation has historically been thought of as the process of removing humans from production through the use of machines. We’re used to seeing robots in car manufacturing plants, the aforementioned self-service checkouts and, on the news, unmanned drone planes.  This kind of automation tends to threaten manual jobs with PwC stating that “the most exposed sectors include[e] retail and wholesale, transport and storage, and manufacturing”. 

But with advances in artificial intelligence, highly skilled, knowledge-based roles could also be impacted.  At particular risk are those roles that undertake rule-based activities, such as accounting or law, elements of which can be replicated by computer programmes.

Three Jobs at Risk of Automation

Lawyers

In recent years, law firms have introduced new technologies to automate some of the more routine legal work.  For example, software that extracts data from the Land Registry and checks the details to saves legal teams several weeks of mind-numbing, manual fact checking.  While more senior legal roles are safe for now, there’s predicted to be less demand for junior lawyers and paralegals.

Farmers

Farming has long embraced new technology to make what was once back-breaking work easier and more efficient.  In this instance, with Brexit looming, farmers may need to replace 90,000 seasonal EU workers with machines, something that’s already happening in other countries.  For example, strawberry picking machines are in operation in Spain and robotic apple pickers are being used in the US to minimise the workforce required. 

This has inspired researchers in the UK to explore whether wheat can be produced without human intervention. With the average age of a farmer at 59, while automation threatens certain jobs, it might be necessary to ensure the future of the UK’s food production.

Taxi Drivers

Uber have been testing driverless cars for some time citing the potential of their project “to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world.”  Traditional taxi drivers are already fighting Uber’s gig-economy service and driverless cars could strike another blow to an industry that employs around 300,000 people in the UK.

Three Safe Jobs

Jobs of the future will require three core elements: qualifications in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM); creativity; and emotional intelligence.  Here are three jobs that reflect this range of skills and will likely be safe in 2030.

Marketing, design and communications

While machines are good at understanding rules and assimilating work based on rational instruction, creativity isn’t easy to replicate.  This means roles in marketing, design and communications will be safe.  According to website, ‘Will Robots Take My Job?’, marketing managers, writers and designers have a 1.4%, 3.8% and 8.2% chance of being replaced by robots respectively.

Robotics Engineers and Technicians

With the rise of the machines comes more jobs in support of this new technology.  Those who have studied STEM subjects will be able to secure this kind of work.  Government and business are encouraging more children to take up these subjects in order to plug the existing skills gap.  In the short-term, these roles may need to be filled with overseas hires.

Psychiatrists, nurses and doctors

Roles that require emotional intelligence and a human touch aren’t jobs that robots or AI are likely to be equipped for.  However, healthcare professionals will continue to rely heavily on new technology as research and development in this sector continues.  With existing staff shortages within the NHS and the potential for Brexit to make matters worse, training to become a healthcare professional, is a safe bet.

Possibility or Threat?

Automation may sound like it poses a threat to the future, but in reality, jobs are likely to change shape rather than be completely replaced by new technologies.  For any business owner impacted by automation, there are a number of people issues to be considered such as workforce planning, training and job redesign. 

If you need specialist HR support to review your people strategy in the face of technological change, get in touch by calling us on 0330 555 1139 or via email at .