Young workers need education and training to face automation challenge

One in four young people in the UK could lose their jobs to automation over the next 15 years, according to new research by PwC.

The company’s Young Workers Index 2017 shows that, by the early 2030s, up to 28% of the existing jobs of young workers aged 16-24 in the UK could be at risk of automation. It also says, however, that artificial intelligence (AI)-related technologies will create many new employment opportunities.

Educating and training young people to enable them to move flexibly between careers as technology evolves will be critical.

PwC noted that nearly a quarter of 16-24 year olds (24%) in the UK currently work in the wholesale and retail sector, where the potential risk of automation could be as high as 44%. Workers within this sector also tend to have lower educational attainment and qualifications, potentially limiting their ability to move flexibly between industries and into new jobs in response to automation.

Transport and manufacturing are other sectors facing high risks of automation, particularly for male workers with lower education levels, the report said.

Meanwhile, only around 5% of young people are employed in industries with a high requirement for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, which could be long-term beneficiaries of new digital technologies such as AI and robotics.

A big skills gap could open up unless more young people are equipped with the skills needed in these industries.

“Empowering young workers to succeed in an increasingly automated world will be crucial to the long-term success of the UK economy,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC UK. “The government has already taken positive steps in recent years with initiatives to boost vocational training and apprenticeships, but an increased focus on STEM skills will help to close the technology gap with leading international economies and maximise the economic and employment benefits of automation.”

Jon Andrews, head of technology and investment at PwC UK, added: “Our research shows that the impact of technology advances on jobs will be felt more profoundly by some groups than others, with education level a key differentiator. As new technology advances bring innovation we need to be careful that the impact of this is progressive and does not create barriers. Businesses have a critical role to play in creating the jobs and helping the UK workforce build the skills of the future.”

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