In the early 1800s, textile workers in the United Kingdom were threatened by the introduction of machines, which led to the Luddite rebellion between 1811 and 1813. While this type of action is extremely rare, protests against automation are becoming increasingly common.

Alongside automation, job increases are predicted in certain sectors.
Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato

As with the Luddites, today there are growing concerns that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will wipe out many low- and medium-skilled jobs. Yet while this will present major challenges in the coming years, jobs in UK cities are no more at risk of automation today than they were a century ago.

That is according to a new UK-focused Cities Outlook 2018 report, which analyses how technological advancements will affect the UK labour market by 2030 and how this compares to the early 20th century.

Job markets typically bounce back

In 1911, the numbers of domestic servants and laundry workers began to decrease dramatically thanks to the advent of electrical appliances such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners. This meant that by 1951, the number of laundry workers and servants had fallen by 34% and 67%, respectively.

Servants and porters were a dying breed in the late 19th century
Image: REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Looking ahead, the report shows around 3.6 million jobs will be at risk between now and 2030, with over 50% of losses coming from just five occupations: sales assistants, admin staff, customer service representatives, assemblers and machine operatives.

Those working in sales and retail are now most at risk
Image: Cities Outlook 2018

“While the potential job losses set out will pose a challenge, history shows that cities were exposed to a similar risk of job losses a hundred years ago resulting from both automation and globalization. Despite this, most have been able to bounce back and grow,” the report says.

Indeed, 52 cities in England now have more jobs than in 1911, while 27 have more than doubled their workforces. In the city of Slough, jobs have increased by 900% over the last 100 years, whereas jobs in London have risen by more than 51%, the report shows.

Jobs in Slough have increased by 900% since 1911
Image: Cities Outlook 2018

According to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), half of all job increases by 2030 will be created in publicly funded occupations, such as in the health and welfare sectors, while 26% will be created for lower-skilled workers in the private sector. The remaining 24% will be created for high-skilled private sector occupations.

The future of work

Changes to the labour market will also be mirrored by the need for employees to learn new skills and update the skills they already possess.

Speaking in the report, Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech says: “Reskilling and upskilling must become the norm, and it’s essential that we equip young people to face the future of work.”

This is also the basis of a report by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group, which argues that workers will have to adapt quickly, rushing to acquire a broad new set of skills that will help them survive a fast-changing job market.

New skills will include problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity, as well as developing a habit of lifelong learning.

The report, which analysed 50 million online job postings in the United States, also reveals that while automation and AI could disrupt 1.4 million American jobs by 2026, around 11 million will be created.

Across the education, training and library sectors, for example, around 790,000 jobs are expected to be created by 2026, while in healthcare there will be as many as 2.3 million.