Workforce upskilling key to averting AI job loss 'apocalypse'

Concept image showing employment line with workers illuminated by light signifying AI job losses scenario.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

 AI job losses in the UK could impact up to eight million people unless the government takes urgent action to address skills gaps, according to a new report. 

Analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found entry level, part-time, and administrative jobs are at greatest risk, affecting women, younger workers, and those on lower wages the most.

The study assessed 22,000 tasks spanning various roles across the UK economy, and found that 11% of worker roles are already exposed to AI. The most affected include ‘routine cognitive’ tasks such as database management, and ‘organizational and strategic’ tasks such as scheduling or inventory management.

However, more jobs could be put at risk as companies integrate existing AI technologies deeper within operational processes, the study warned. Long-term, this could result in AI carrying out 59% of tasks and eventually affecting higher-earning jobs.

"We could see jobs such as copywriters, graphic designers, and personal assistant roles being heavily affected by AI," said IPPR senior research fellow and report author Bhargav Srinivasa Desikan.

AI job losses: The worst-case scenarios

The report sets out three potential scenarios whereby AI job losses occur. The worst-case scenario, the study found, would see “full displacement” of the UK’s workforce, with all at-risk jobs eventually being replaced. 

Under this scenario, around 7.9 million jobs could be lost across the country with no GDP gains.

The central scenario saw 4.4 million jobs disappear, but with economic gains of £144 billion per year, or 6.3% of GDP.

Finally, the best-case scenario of 'full augmentation' would lead to no loss of jobs, with GDP gains of 4 per cent at £92 billion per year. Wage gains for workers could be more than 30% in some cases – but could also be nil.

Impact of AI job losses can be mitigated through training

Without government action and with companies left to their own devices, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility, the IPPR warned.

"Already existing generative AI could lead to big labor market disruption or it could hugely boost economic growth, either way it is set to be a game changer for millions of us. Many firms are already investing in it, and it has potential to speed up many more tasks as more businesses adopt it," said Carsten Jung, report author and senior economist at IPPR.

"History shows that technological transition can be a boon if well managed, or can end in disruption if left to unfold without controls. Indeed, some occupations could be hard hit by generative AI, starting with back office jobs."

The IPPR urged the government to develop a job-centric industrial strategy for AI.

This, the think tank said, should support green jobs, which it noted are less vulnerable than others to automation. Similarly, the government was advised to enact fiscal policy measures such as tax incentives or subsidies to encourage job augmentation over full displacement.

Nikolaz Foucaud, managing director for EMEA at Coursera, echoed the report’s calls for a sharpened focus on training and upskilling.

Foucaud said that while AI job losses will likely occur in coming years, proactive efforts now will be critical to reduce the impact on the workforce and enable workers to move into new roles.

“The IPPR report’s warning of potential job losses from AI points to an increasing urgency to accelerate AI training and upskilling for UK workers,” he said. 

“The data serves as a stark reminder that companies cannot afford to be complacent about the impact of AI on existing jobs.


“AI presents a golden opportunity for business growth and increased productivity. For lower-skilled jobs, in particular, it could save workers’ time on repetitive tasks and provide opportunities for wider career progression. However, the effective adoption of AI, designed to complement rather than replace humans, hinges on a workforce equipped with the necessary expertise.”

Foucaud said the report’s indication that women are specifically at-risk should also raise serious concerns.

The IPPR report findings on this front align with similar research from Code First Girls this year, which found that tech workers fear the increased use of generative AI could “drive women out the workforce”.

“Organizations must ensure that women do not miss the opportunity to benefit from AI upskilling and this must include flexible options for training,” he said. “This will be vital for ensuring women’s careers evolve alongside AI rather than facing a heightened risk of being replaced by it.”

Emma Woollacott

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