Recent years have seen a lot of dystopian hype about the #RiseOfTheRobots and the impact of #Automation in the labour market, with proclamations of mass unemployment and the death of whole swathes of job roles abounding.

Of course, such claims are great attention grabbers. But how realistic are they?

The idea of masses of people losing their jobs as a result of increased automation has been both asserted and rebutted by academic studies.

For instance, in their early work on automation, The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation, Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne concluded that up to 47% of current jobs in the US could disappear in the next couple of decades.

Mapped to the British economy, this equates to over 10 million jobs – around 35% – disappearing by 2035.

More recently, their work has been critiqued and refined, and that early portrait of labour market catastrophe has stimulated what are arguably more realistic and sensible interpretations of the potential effects of automation.

We at Emsi have just published our contribution to the continued discussions: AutoNation – Analysing the potential risks and opportunities automation could bring to Britain’s labour market.

In this report, we explore a number of different issues, including:

  • The historic connection between automation and employment in the British labour market.
  • The potential for automation to help provide solutions to the productivity puzzle.
  • The decline in the use of physical skills in recent years, along with a huge increase in the use of analytical and interpersonal skills.
  • The effects of exposure to automation on occupations, industries and local economies.
  • The ways in which education providers, economic development organisations, and employers can use this insight to prepare for the future.

Of course, whilst the nature and rate of change in Industry 4.0 is very different to previous technological revolutions, there are interesting lessons from how automation has taken hold in the past that are probably more applicable than they might first seem.

The practical reality is that technology does not affect jobs in totality, but in fact happens at the task level – certain tasks, notably those of a physical nature, are most likely affected through automation, whilst more “human” tasks, such as key analytical and interpersonal skills, in fact grow.

Granted, whilst some roles with high exposure to technological advances may disappear, automation will most likely manifest in a change in the nature of work within job roles, creating new work and new ways of working.

This is borne out by looking at Britain’s labour market today, which has unprecedented levels of employment, showing that automation does is not necessarily leading to reduced employment, but is also creating new opportunities for industries to “do more with less”.

Task-based rather than job-orientated view of how automation effects work

AutoNation explores this concept in detail, and by taking a task-based rather than job-orientated view of how automation effects work, paints a quite different picture of occupation change than the one we are so often given. Furthermore, by harnessing Emsi’s uniquely granular labour market data, we have modelled this across to industries and local economies, in order to give a detailed understanding of where exposure to automation is highest and lowest.

Such insight is not designed to answer all the questions around automation, but it is designed to stimulate thought, through a proactive mindset, of how key agents in the world of human capital can both understand the challenges that automation might bring, and how they can better harness the opportunities automation presents in our drive for increased productivity and inclusive economic growth.

Our research suggests the critical need for every member of society to have a strong base of core “human skills” – notably those of an analytical and interpersonal nature – and to have the ability to constantly update technical skills to keep pace with the changes that automation will bring through our lifetime in the workforce. What this means for education, economic development and employment focussed organisations, is the need to come together to foster an enduring philosophy of lifelong learning for all, if we are to harness the exciting potential that Industry 4.0 brings to our society.

Good visibility of where and how this exposure manifests itself in different communities is key to embracing, rather than fearing, what the future holds. AutoNation will help leaders in these sectors better understand the situation in their own focus economy or industry, so that they can make key evidence-based decisions that allow them to face the future with confidence.

Andy Durman, Managing Director of the Labour Market Insight specialists, Emsi UK

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