AI job risks: Skilled workers are most likely to lose out to artificial intelligence in UK

A businessman holding a cardboard box with his desk contents inside, indicating that he's lost his job
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Workers in London and the South East are the most likely to have their jobs threatened by AI, according to a new report from the Department for Education.

The research, published on 28 November 2023, found that  between 10% and 30% of jobs can be automated by the use of AI, with the insurance and finance sectors likely to be hardest hit. 

Other sectors likely to be strongly affected include information and communication; professional, scientific and technical; property; public administration and defence; and education.

"Professional occupations are more exposed to AI, particularly those associated with more clerical work and across finance, law and business management roles," reads the report. "This includes management consultants and business analysts; accountants; and psychologists." 

In general, it's the workers with the highest levels of achievement whose jobs are most vulnerable: Those with a degree are likely to be more affected than those who just have A levels.

People in building and construction, manufacturing technologies, and transportation operations and maintenance are the least exposed, thanks to doing manual work that is technically difficult, in unpredictable environments, and with lower wages, reducing the incentive to automate.

Meanwhile, the professional occupations least exposed to AI are veterinarians, medical radiographers, dental practitioners, physiotherapists and senior police officers, says the report. 

In terms of geography, thanks to the concentration of skilled jobs in London and the South East, workers here have the highest exposure to potential job losses due to AI. Meanwhile, workers in the North East tend to be in jobs with the least exposure.


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But, reads the report, "overall, the variation in exposure to AI across the geographical areas is much smaller than the variation across occupations or industries. Each geographical area covers a large population and a lot of overlap in the types of jobs, so we would expect to see more variation in exposure to AI when looking at smaller areas where the job markets will differ more."

The report supports previous research indicating a sea-change is coming, with a recent Goldman Sachs report indicating that as many as 18% of jobs could be affected by AI and that workers in advanced economies would fare the worst. Up to 300 million jobs could be lost worldwide, it says.

Already, companies including BT and IBM have announced that they expect to make wide-ranging layoffs, with thousands of jobs to be replaced by AI. 

It's not all bad news, however, with the Department for Education research indicating that new jobs could start to appear as others decline. 

"A consensus has begun to emerge that 10-30% of jobs in the UK are highly automatable and could be subject to some level of automation over the next two decades," reads the report. 

"However, the overall net effect on employment is unclear, but it is often assumed that there will be a broadly neutral long-term effect and job displacement will be matched by job creation."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.