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AI Threatens 8 Million U.K. Jobs – Which Are at Risk and What’s Next?

Last Updated March 27, 2024 11:11 AM
Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Last Updated March 27, 2024 11:11 AM

Key Takeaways

  • Study finds that AI has the potential to significantly disrupt the job market by automating many tasks.
  • Back-office roles, entry-level positions, and repetitive tasks are most susceptible to automation.
  • Gen Z is more receptive to the positive aspects of AI, like streamlined work and increased productivity.

The Institute for Public Policy Research cautioned  that up to 8 million UK workers could face job displacement from artificial intelligence (AI) under current government policies. AI is already influencing 11% of tasks performed by UK employees but this figure has the potential to skyrocket to nearly 60% if businesses delve deeper into integrating this technology

However, while AI development may lead to job losses, it’s equally true that it will foster the creation of new opportunities in the evolving work landscape.

The Research Findings

Part-time, entry-level, and back-office positions such as customer service roles are most susceptible to the impact of AI. But higher-paying jobs will increasingly feel its effects as well.

These IPPR findings underscore the government’s dilemmas as it places greater reliance on AI to address the UK’s productivity challenges. Companies of all stripes are leveraging AI to enhance efficiency, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announcing a $1 billion investment in technology and AI to bolster output in the public sector.

Carsten Jung, senior economist at IPPR, scrutinizing 22,000 tasks spanning all job categories, remarked: “Existing generative AI has the potential to either significantly disrupt the labor market or substantially fuel economic growth. Either way, it’s poised to revolutionize the lives of millions.”

In modeling the potential ramifications of a “second wave” of AI adoption on the job market, IPPR found that, under the best-case scenario and appropriate government policies, the technology could inject as much as £306 billion per year into the UK economy without any net job losses. Additionally, AI could yield wage increases of up to 30%.

However, absent policy interventions, researchers estimated that AI could lead to the displacement of 8 million jobs without generating any economic benefits.

Most Affected Jobs

According  to IPPR, back-office roles are most vulnerable to immediate AI impact. Personal assistants, secretaries, HR administrative staff, researchers, marketing professionals, and writers face the highest exposure levels (ranging from 65% to 69%). Women are particularly at risk due to their prevalence in roles like secretarial and administrative positions. Entry-level workers face greater automation risks than seasoned professionals. In fact, administrative staff without much experience face a 14% higher risk.

There are already signs of declining demand in at-risk fields. Notable AI-related job announcements in mid-2023 primarily targeted HR roles, and IBM’s decision  to halt hiring for susceptible back-office positions exemplifies this trend.

Jobs to be most affected by the AI
Jobs to be most affected by the AI. l Source: IPPR

Companies seem to be scaling back on hiring rather than resorting to mass layoffs in response to AI advancements. This further underscores the heightened risks faced by entry-level positions.

Recent developments illustrate AI’s integration in sensitive sectors, prompting discussions about the trade-off between technological efficiency and human interaction. Examples include replacing  human helpline workers with chatbots by the National Eating Disorders Association, and the creative industry‘s grappling with AI’s potential for job displacement, as seen in the postponement of a studio expansion influenced by OpenAI’s Sora video generator. Copywriters and freelancers are already feeling pressure from AI’s advanced writing capabilities.

AI Can’t Do Everything

AI is advancing rapidly, yet numerous professions still demand distinctly human skills and qualities that machines struggle to replicate. According to several sources – World Economic Forum made a report  on this aspect – jobs emphasizing human interaction and empathy, such as therapists, counselors, social workers, and community outreach workers, rely on emotional intelligence and understanding human nuances, representing an area where AI falls short.

Creative and artistic fields, including artists, musicians, writers, and other creatives, leverage imagination and ingenuity to produce original works, traits inherently human and challenging for AI to replicate. Furthermore, skilled trades and construction require manual dexterity, problem-solving skills, and adaptability to unforeseen circumstances. Here, hands-on human expertise is indispensable for building, repairing, and maintaining physical structures.

High-level strategists and analysts demand complex decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to grasp the “big picture”. These are areas where human judgment and experience excel in interpreting data and making informed decisions. Leadership and management roles involve inspiring and motivating others, fostering collaboration, and navigating intricate interpersonal dynamics – areas where human emotional intelligence and social skills are indispensable.

While AI aids research, human intuition, and out-of-the-box thinking remain essential for scientific and engineering breakthroughs.

But People Feel Threatened

But these reassurances don’t seem to help people, who still feel threatened by the AI. Research  from Changes Unipol published on March 27, 2024, shows that surveyed people are deeply apprehensive about specific aspects of AI’s impact on personal and collective life.

Foremost among these concerns is the realm of work. 87% of respondents expressed apprehension about at least one disadvantage associated with AI’s introduction. These concerns predominantly revolve around job loss (39%) and the potential closure of artisan businesses (32%). But also reduced job opportunities for individuals with low digital literacy (30%).

People feeling threatened
Share of people who believe AI will replace their jobs. l Source: Zippia

Nevertheless, 81% of respondents also acknowledge at least one potential advantage for the workforce. Among these perceived benefits are the reduction of human errors in work processes (32%), increased access to data and information (28%), streamlined activities (27%), and decreased workload (26%). Only 19% of respondents, however, foresee the creation of new jobs as a potential positive outcome.

Interestingly, Generation Z, more so than other demographics, identifies positive aspects such as streamlined activities (34%) and increased productivity (29%). Conversely, they express concerns about the potential threat to human creativity (34%).

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