ONS: Automation Poses ‘High Risk’ To 1.5 Million Jobs


Proportion of high-risk jobs has decreased since 2011, indicating some positions may already have been automated out of existence

A new study has indicated that 1.5 million people in England are at “high risk” of having their jobs replaced by automated tools or robots.

The analysis from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that the proportion of jobs facing a high risk of automation decreased slightly from 2011 to 2017, from 8.1 percent to 7.4 percent, while the proportion of jobs at low and medium risk has risen.

The ONS defined “high risk” as a greater than 70 percent risk of automation.

The decline in the proportion of high-risk jobs may be due to some jobs already having been lost to automated processes, the ONS said.

starship technologies delivery robots2
A delivery robot from Starship Technologies. Image credit: Starship Technologies

Automation risk

“For instance, self-checkouts at supermarkets are now a common sight, reducing the need to have as many employees working at checkouts,” the agency said.

It said 70 percent of the most at-risk positions were held by women, with part-time workers and young people the next most commonly affected groups.

The results are based on an analysis of some 20 million jobs in 2017, 7.4 percent of which were at high risk of being automated out of existence.

Waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations were the three occupations most at risk from automation.

The lowest-risk positions were medical practicioners, higher-education teaching professionals and senior education professionals.

Labour market shift

The ONS remarked that it is not so much that “robots are taking over”, but that “routine and repetitive tasks can be carried out more quickly and efficiently by an algorithm written by a human, or a machine designed for one specific function”.

The risk from automation decreases for older workers, up to the ages of 35 to 39, with 1.3 percent of this age group holding roles with a high automation risk.

The risk then increases again from age 40 to 44 and onward.

“When young workers enter the labour market, they may be entering part-time roles and employed in industries like sales, retail, and other roles where some degree of automation is highly likely,” the ONS said.

It noted that the overall number of jobs has increased since its previous study, with the majority of the newer positions in occupations at low or medium risk, suggesting an adaptation in the labour market.


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