Women more at risk of job automation

Because of the types of jobs more likely to be held by women, the female workforce is more at risk of automation, according to stats

Women are more likely to be affected by automation because of the types of jobs they have, according to stats from the Office of National Statistics.

A report from ONS found 70.2% of the jobs at highest risk of being replaced by automation are held by women.

In 2017, ONS found 1.5 million roles in England were at risk of having elements of their tasks automated, including roles such as retail cashiers, manufacturing plant employees and waiting staff, many of which are more likely to be filled by women.

“Automation through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will impact millions of jobs across the globe, but as this research shows, not everyone is equally at risk of being replaced by a robot,” said Tara O’Sullivan, chief marketing officer at Skillsoft.

“Women are more likely to be employed in jobs that are most likely to be displaced by automation – roles like cashiers or receptionists.”

Younger people and those who work part-time are also at a higher risk of a number of the tasks involved in their role being automated – 15.7% of people between the ages of 20 and 24 are in jobs likely to be automated.

The ONS report referenced some processes already replaced by automation such as self-checkouts at supermarkets, which are likely to threaten the roles most at risk: waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations.

Lack of basic digital skills

Not only are there a lack of candidates with the advanced technical skills needed to fill roles in the technology industry, the UK is also suffering from a lack of basic digital skills needed to complete some day to day tasks.

Jobs most likely to be automated, according to ONS data, are those which are lower skilled or require “routine” tasks.

Though the UK’s computing curriculum has aimed to develop these digital skills, as well as some more technical skills, some say it is too focused on coding, and many young women do not choose to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects later on in education.

“The biggest factor is education level. Compared to those holding a doctorate degree, people without a high school degree are almost six times more likely to lose their livelihoods,” said O’Sullivan. “They are more likely to be working jobs that are less complex and easier to automate; they are also more likely to be female.”

The types of roles commonly held by women, as well as factors such as career gaps, contribute to the gender pay gap, as women are more likely to be in lower-paid roles – something automation may only exacerbate if the right skills are not passed on.

But some have argued while some tasks have been automated, automation will create more jobs than it will eradicate.

Job creation

Andrew Gardner, director of Reed Technology, said: “Although automation will undoubtedly lead to the streamlining of certain jobs which humans are no longer required for, it will also lead to the creation of numerous more jobs, such as software engineers and developers, as new machines and equipment will complement the way in which we work.”

Meanwhile Martin Linstrom, managing director of UK&I at IPsoft called the idea automation will put people out of work “scaremongering”.

“For the past couple of years, we have seen a stream of similar stories highlighting the number of current roles that will be automated,” he said. “However, what these stories don’t – and can’t – truly measure is which of these jobs will disappear vs. which of these jobs will transform. And this just gives way to scaremongering that some 1.5 million jobs will disappear.”

Linstrom also said firms are likely to use technology assist workers and transform their jobs.

But the ONS report stated though the overall number of jobs has increased over the years, these are more likely to be in more complex roles, and therefore will not save those at greater risk of being automated.

To prevent those at higher risk of automation from losing out, Skillsoft’s O’Sullivan said it’s up to organisations to retrain and create new job opportunities for those who do not have the skills to avoid job automation.

Read more about automation

  • Intelligent agents and automation will be needed to support digitisation efforts in business, but to succeed, IT will need to apply these techniques internally.
  • Research suggests the next 15 years will see young workers’ jobs at risk from automation, putting pressure on the UK to ensure the future generation has appropriate skills.

It has been suggested in the past the jobs least likely to be automated are those that require a higher level of emotional intelligence, and ONS’s research found the same – the jobs least likely to be automated included “highly skilled” occupations such as medical professionals and senior members of education providers.

The technology industry is already seeing the increased importance of candidates with softer skills, such as communication, teamwork and creative thinking.

Sharon Graham, executive officer in charge of automation for Unite the Union, said: “We must not and will not sit back and wait for new technology to be imposed, especially when it is putting workers’ livelihoods at risk.

“We will fight to make sure this wealth is used to do things that help workers and their families, such as reducing working time without loss of pay. Automation needs to deliver for ordinary people, not just make bigger profits for corporations.”

Graham suggested “radical response” to changing workplaces, and said initiatives such as shorter working weeks for the same amount of pay and earlier retirements might result from assistive technology in the workplace.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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