Is a robot coming for your job?

The most vulnerable job markets across the UK

Updated: 


Many once-common jobs from the past have been replaced by technology. When was the last time you saw a lamp-lighter, a telephone exchange operator, a 'knocker-upper', for example - or even a petrol station attendant?

But the march of the robots may hardly have started, according to the experts. Oxford University researchers have estimated that as many as 47% of jobs could be automated by 2033.

And just a few months ago, Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane warned that as many as 15 million jobs were threatened with replacement by smart machines - again, almost half the UK's total.

These jobs aren't necessarily the ones you'd expect, with insurance underwriters, paralegals, accountants and auditors all rated as having at least a 90% chance of eventually being replaced by computers.

A couple of weeks ago, Adzuna analysed over 1.2 million job vacancies listed on its site and correlated them with the Oxford University data to find out how many current vacancies were for jobs that are likely to be taken over by robots by 2035.

And, it found, there were over 100,000 job adverts for roles across the UK with a high risk of becoming automated - that's one in eleven vacancies.

These included roles with a high number of vacancies across the country such as HGV drivers, couriers, receptionists and accountants, as well as much less common jobs like billboard installers, tree trimmers and tractor operators.

Drivers and couriers, for example, could be replaced by self-driving cars, and accountants by computer software. Robot receptionists already exist and are in use in hotels and department stores in Japan. They're also being tested as carers for small children and the elderly.

"We've heard that more than a third of current British jobs may be lost to automation, but our new analysis of the job market suggests that a high proportion of advertised vacancies are still for roles that are at high risk of being performed by robots in the not-too-distant future," says Adzuna co-founder Doug Monro.

Over the country as a whole, found Adzuna, around one in nine current job vacancies is for a position that could be vulnerable to replacement by a robot. But there are big variations in the proportion of at-risk vacancies across the UK.

Adzuna reckons Exeter has the highest rate of jobs likely to be automated, while nearby Plymouth wasn't far behind. Other areas where robots look set to take over from people in the workplace include Crawley, Norwich and Aberdeen.

At the other end of the scale, London, Reading and Edinburgh had the lowest proportion of high-risk vacancies, with only around one in twenty adverts being for a job that a robot was likely to take over.

Londoners, though, shouldn't feel too complacent. While the proportion of robot-friendly jobs in London was low, the high number of vacancies across the city meant that there were still 13,000 at-risk jobs.

"The risk of a robot invasion on the Devon coast might sound fanciful, but there's a serious message for younger workers, whether they're looking for their first job, or are comfortably in a career," says Monro.

"If you want to remain relevant in the workplace, you need to develop skills that cannot be easily automated."

In general, this means focusing on the skills that robots aren't likely to master any time soon: negotiation, persuasiveness and empathy. Jobs that require creative thinking and value-judgements that go beyond logical reasoning should also be more safe from automation, says Adzuna.

"This doesn't mean you should necessarily avoid jobs that can be automated like the plague – but if you're not planning on retiring within the next 20 years you should be aware of the need to develop skills and take every opportunity to gain experience in areas that will set you apart from the upcoming robot uprising," comments Adzuna's Stephen Pritchard.

Proportion of jobs at high risk of automation - the riskiest towns and cities

1. Exeter 8.9%
2. Crawley 8.4%
3. Norwich 7.9%
4. Plymouth 7.7%
5. Warrington 7.7%
6. Southampton 7.7%
7. Aberdeen 7.6%
8. Salford 7.6%
9. Rochdale 7.5%
10. Sunderland 7.5%

Proportion of jobs at high risk of automation - the safest towns and cities
1. London 4.8%
2. Reading 5.0%
3. Edinburgh 5.1%
4. Swansea 5.3%
5. Chester 5.4%
6. Leeds 5.4%
7. Worcester 5.5%
8. Glasgow 5.5%
9. Oxford 5.6%
10. Stoke on Trent 5.6%

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