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A total of 1.5m jobs are at high risk of automation, says ONS

In recent years, predictions about the rise of robots have struck fear into the hearts of British workers concerned about their future livelihoods. But new data suggests the march of automation may have been over-hyped.

Recent research found that a quarter of Brits believe their jobs could be replaced by machines. However, research published by the Office for National Statistics on Monday suggests only 7.4 per cent of jobs (1.5m) are at high risk of automation, down from 8.1 per cent in 2011.

The drop, researchers claim, could reflect the fact that some jobs, such as supermarket checkout supervisors, have already been widely automated.

Meanwhile, the percentage of jobs at low and medium risk of automation has risen to 27.7 per cent (5.5m), a rise of 2.4 per cent. The ONS suggests that as the majority of new roles are deemed to be at low or medium risk, automation may already have made a mark on Britain’s job market.

Women, young people and part-time workers are at higher risk of losing their jobs to automation, the study found. By contrast, the ONS’s researchers said highly skilled jobs, such as medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals and senior teachers, were at the lowest risk of automation.

Predicting the fallout of automation is notoriously difficult, but that has not discouraged a number of organisations from doing so in recent years. McKinsey has predicted that 50 per cent of work tasks could be automated, while the OECD believes 14 per cent of roles could be carried out by machines. PwC, however, thinks automation will lead to more jobs.

Despite a near constant stream of predictions about automation, some expects fear businesses and governments are failing to consider how workers will be affected by the rise of artificial intelligence.

Writing for NS Tech last month, Andrew Pakes, director of research at the union Prospect, warned that “ignoring workers […] is the sure-fire way to create an AI divide between winners and losers and to incubate a culture of distrust”.

Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft, said responsibility for addressing the unequal impact of automation rests with businesses. “Employers need to lead the charge, retraining and proactively finding new opportunities for [affected] employees.”