According to the 2018 Cities Outlook report, an annual health-check of 63 city economies, automation and robotics might render 3.6 million jobs in the UK obsolete by 2030. Those most under threat include positions in retail, customer service, administration and warehousing.
Should you be worried? Not by the BUDDY companion robots pictured above. They’re designed to help not replace us humans — keeping an eye on your home, amusing the family with music and videos, perhaps acting as a calendar and alarm clock. But industrial automation and retail robots could be a much larger problem, especially if you work in places like Mansfield, Sunderland, Wakefield and a host of other northern UK cities.
Low-skilled roles under threat
In Mansfield’s case, jobs in coal-mining and textiles have been replaced by low-skilled roles, such as warehousing — Sports Direct has a large warehouse and distribution centre in Shirebrook. Average weekly wages are £67 below the national average, says the report, and the city has the second lowest share of private sector knowledge jobs of any British city.
It’s indicative of a larger trend. According to the research: “1 in 5 existing jobs in British cities are likely to be displaced by 2030… However, this risk is not spread evenly across the country, with struggling cities in the North and Midlands more exposed to job losses than wealthier cities in the South.”
“Around 18% of jobs are under threat in Southern cities, compared to 23% in cities elsewhere in the country.”
Rise of the retail robots
We’ve already seen how robots can replace human employees in retail environments. In the US, so-called ‘LoweBots’ cruise around Lowe’s Home Improvement stores acting as digital sales assistants. While the Tally, built by Simbe Robotics and equipped with Intel RealSense cameras, can autonomously navigate a shop floor to intelligently monitor stock levels.
Warehousing too is becoming increasingly automated. Amazon uses robots to bring shelves to its human pickers (rather than the other way around). While Ocado’s cavernous warehouse in Andover uses a combination of cloud technology and swarming robots to speedily process customer shopping orders. It’s an amazing sight, as you can see for yourself in the video below.
Amazon’s first Go grocery store opened in Seattle in January, offering a cashier-less, cash register-less, queue-less experience. While customer service jobs are under threat from a new generation of smart chatbots, powered by artificial intelligence.
It’s not all bad news for low-skilled jobs, however. The 2018 Cities Outlook report predicts that roles including “catering jobs, electrical and electronic trades and sports and fitness occupations” will buck the trend and grow. “Moreover, the emergence of new industries will bring new jobs which do not currently exist – just as the rise of sectors such as the IT industry did over the past century.”
Some future jobs don’t exist yet
After all, jobs like app developer, social media manager, data scientist, Udemy teacher and drone pilot didn’t exist ten years ago. By 2030, today’s kids might be employed as cryptocurrency advisers, robot maintenance engineers, vertical farmers or personal healthcare trainers. Or they might not have jobs at all, living instead on a form of universal basic income provided by the government.
Ten years ago, the idea that someone could earn money by uploading videos to YouTube or playing League of Legends might have seemed far-fetched. In ten years time, the employment landscape could look very different.