Two-thirds of workers at risk of robot-driven redundancy are unaware of the threat to jobs

People who do jobs that are most likely to be automated through technology are unaware and unprepared of the impending threat to their livelihoods, with Nesta calling on the government to do more to up-skill those at risk

More than two-thirds (68%) of UK workers doing jobs that are at the highest risk of automation believe this will not happen in the next decade, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.

The YouGov survey, commissioned by global innovation foundation Nesta, questioned those with jobs considered most vulnerable to automation, such as table waiting staff, cleaners, retail sales staff, street cleaners, bus and coach drivers, bar staff and scaffolders.

A total of six million people work in jobs that are expected to change radically or disappear by 2030, according to Nesta.

The lack of awareness of the risk of their jobs being automated is leading to complacency. Nearly half (47%) are not aware of the type of jobs they could apply for, and 34% of respondents said they have not receiving any training in the past five years, resulting in a lack of skills development.

Around half (46%) surveyed, many of which are in low-paid jobs, said the financial cost of a training is a barrier to gaining new skills. 

Nesta is calling for the government and employers to help workers for the future by making data on jobs and skills trends more available and making it easier for people to take part in training.

“People need to know what their future holds so they can take action to prepare. If some two-thirds of the most at-risk workers don’t know the truth of their situation, something is broken,” said Ksenia Zheltoukhova, director of research operations at Nesta.

“We have an opportunity now to harness technology so that automation of some jobs is accompanied by creation of better ones, and people need information and training to develop skills for these new jobs.”

The World Economic Forum’s Future of jobs 2018 report predicted that 75 million current jobs will be automated by 2022, and that 52% of today’s jobs will be done by robots by 2025.

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology advances, higher paid jobs, including IT roles, will also begin to be automated.

For example, enterprises can now interview software robots when they are looking for new service desk engineers – IPsoft recently launched a marketplace of digital workers, with service desk engineers being the first available.

Over time, robots will be introduced into roles that are specific to business functions, such as human resources (HR) and industries such as banking, insurance, healthcare, retail and telecommunications. The jobs being done by the robots are described by IPsoft as “high-friction, low-margin roles”. The marketplace offers Amelia, IPsoft’s cognitive agent, and businesses can look at its capabilities for certain roles and even talk to the robots in multiple languages before selecting them.

Chetan Dube, CEO at IPsoft and former assistant professor of AI at New York University, expects that enterprise workplaces will be made up of people and robots in equal number within five years.

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