30% of UK jobs at risk of automation by 2030

Over 30% of UK jobs are at risk of becoming automated within the next 15 years thanks to developments in artificial intelligence, at least according to a recent report by PwC.

More than 10 million jobs are at "high risk" of being replaced with robots, although some sectors such as transportation and manufacturing would be worst hit by the emerging technology.

The report found that up to 56% of transportation and storage jobs could disappear, while 46% of manufacturing and 44% of retail roles could be soon carried out by AI led software or robots, sectors involving high proportions of manual work. There are some areas that will be difficult to automate, such as education which is likely to see only a 9% loss in jobs.

Wholesale and retailing, the UK's largest employment sector, was found to be at high risk of automation, potentially seeing 2.25 million jobs disappear over the next five years, while roles involving administration services are likely to lose 1.1 million positions.

These figures are actually considered somewhat low compared to the 38% job automation of the US and 35% of jobs in Germany, however some countries, such as Japan, will see only 21% of roles become automated by AI.

This isn't the first UK report to express concerns of the impact of AI. A study by the government Office for Science found that lower and middle skilled roles, including data processing jobs, were likely to be replaced by software, while a report by the University of Oxford claimed as much as 35% of UK jobs could be replaced by AI.

According to PwC, education is considered to be a key factor as the biggest impact of automation is expected to hit those workers who left school with GCSEs or lower. As a result, it believes there is a "strong case for increased investment in lifelong vocational education" and an argument for the introduction of a universal basic income.

Jon Andrews, head of technology and investments at PwC, said: "There's no doubt that AI and robotics will rebalance what jobs look like in the future, and that some are more susceptible than others. What's important is making sure that the potential gains from automation are shared more widely across society and no one gets left behind. Responsible employers need to ensure they encourage flexibility and adaptability in their people so we are all ready for the change."

"It's impossible to predict what jobs there will even be in the future, so life-long learning and a positive attitude to embracing change needs to be a fundamental aspect of the UK's future success.

Widespread automation is unlikely

However, widespread AI automation is unlikely to become reality, as the economic impact of mass unemployment and lost taxes could outweigh any potential benefits that the technology could bring.

"Just because it is technically feasible to replace a human worker with a robot, doesn't mean it's economically attractive to do so," said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC. "Levels of automation will depend on the relative cost and productivity of robots compared to human workers in carrying out different types of tasks. We expect this balance to shift in favour of robots over time, but there should still be many areas where humans retain a comparative advantage."

Hawksworth also highlighted that current UK employment levels of 75% were the highest since modern records began in 1971, indicating the technological change in our economy was actually creating jobs rather than replacing them.

Some novel approaches have been considered to tackle the issue of AI, including a proposal by Bill Gates to levy income taxes against robots, something that the EU has already considered and rejected.

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.