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Up to 28% of young workers’ jobs in the UK will be at risk from automation over the next 15 years, according to research by PwC.
Its study, which looked at young people working in countries such as the UK, the US and Germany, found that by the 2030s, many current jobs of workers aged between 16 and 24 in the UK will be at risk of automation.
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Predictions for some other countries were higher, however, with 39% of young workers’ jobs in the US under threat, and 38% in Germany.
In the UK, there is still a large number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), and PwC research suggests that the UK’s GDP (gross domestic product) could benefit by up to £43bn by decreasing the number of people aged between 18 and 24 who are NEET.
But John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC UK, said care must be taken to ensure these young people not only join the workforce, but are also given the skills needed to avoid job automation.
The UK is already suffering from a skills gap without taking the country’s decision to leave the European Union into account, which will require a focus on home-grown tech talent to compensate for skilled tech workers who plan to leave the UK after Brexit.
Hawksworth said: “It is encouraging that the UK has improved young people’s job prospects significantly in recent years, but the levels of young people not in education, employment or training are still too high relative to top international performers such as Germany with better vocational education systems.
“Ensuring this support is continued after Brexit as part of the government’s wider industrial strategy is essential if we want to continue to advance social mobility, jobs, training and education for young people across the country.”
There have been claims that automation will create many jobs as well as erasing some, but the level of education and skills gained from their previous roles could pose a problem for some young people who are pushed out of jobs by technology.
Worldwide, 50% of young male workers with a GCSE equivalent or lower are most at risk from job automation, but only 10% of young men with university degrees are at risk.
Young women were found to be less susceptible to job automation, with only 30% of those with GCSE-level education or lower, and 9% of those with degrees, being at risk of automation. This may be due to the higher number of young women in roles that require emotionally intelligent skills, which are more difficult to automate.
Jon Andrews, head of technology and investment at PwC UK, said: “Our research shows that the impact of technology advances on jobs will be felt more profoundly by some groups than others, with education level a key differentiator. As new technology advances bring innovation, we need to be careful that the impact of this is progressive and does not create barriers. Businesses have a critical role to play in creating jobs and helping the UK workforce to build the skills of the future.”
Jobs in sectors such as retail, manufacturing and transport could be most as risk. Almost a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK are working in sectors such as wholesale or retail, where the risk of job automation is higher – up to 44% of roles could be at risk – and many in these roles also have fewer qualifications.
PwC also found that only 5% of young people are employed in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)-based industries, where jobs could be created in the future to cater for the rise of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Even some tech jobs could be at risk of automation in the future – something industry experts believe could be tackled through a greater focus on creative, digital roles.