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Transport jobs among those most at risk from automation, finds report

There’s a lot of concern and discussion these days about the likely impact of automation on jobs – especially today’s driving jobs. But assessing exactly how and when these jobs might be affected is harder to predict.

However, a recently released report from consultancy PwC has identified three waves of automation that the company believes could occur between now and the mid-2030s to impact jobs. And, according to its findings, transport is one of the sectors where jobs are most at risk.

 

“Transport stands out as a sector with particularly high longer term potential automation rates as driverless vehicles roll out at scale across economies, but this will be most evident in the third wave of autonomous automation.”

– ‘Education and retraining critical to help workers adjust to future waves of automation’, PwC

 

While the share of jobs for which automation poses a potential high risk is estimated to be around 3% by the early 2020s, that proportion is set to rise to almost 20% of jobs by the late 2020s and around 30% by the mid-2030s, believes PwC.

In particular, during its third predicted wave of automation – the ‘Autonomy’ wave, which the company says could come to maturity by the mid-2030s – PwC predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly be able to analyse data from multiple sources, make decisions and take physical actions with little or no human input.

As a result, there is relatively high potential for jobs in the transport and manufacturing sectors to be automated by the 2030s, says the report. In particular, it notes, “fully autonomous driverless vehicles could roll out at scale across the economy in this phase”.

 

PwC Potential Rates of Job Automation by Industry Across Waves

 

New jobs to help offset losses?

However, not everything that can be automated will be, says PwC, while job losses may be partly balanced by the creation of new roles.

“Just because something can be automated in theory does not mean it will be economically or politically viable in practice,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC and co-author of the study.

“Furthermore, other analysis we have done suggests that any job losses from automation are likely to be broadly offset in the long run by new jobs created as a result of the larger and wealthier economy made possible by these new technologies.

“We do not believe, contrary to some predictions, that automation will lead to mass technological unemployment by the 2030s any more than it has done in the decades since the digital revolution began.”

Investment in education and skills needed

The report says that education and retraining will be critical to helping today’s workers adjust to these forthcoming waves of automation.

“Our analysis highlights the need for increased public and private investment in education and skills to help people adapt to technological change throughout their careers,” said Hawksworth.

“Governments, business, trade unions and other organisations all need to play their part here in helping people to adapt to these new technologies,” he continued.

“In addition it is important that aggregate demand levels are kept high so as to facilitate the creation of new jobs. One obvious way to do this is through increased public and private infrastructure investment in areas like transport and housing.”

Countries encouraged to embrace tech developments

Despite the jobs threat posed by automation, PwC says that countries should still seek to embrace developments in technology.

“Possible loss of existing jobs should not lead countries to miss out on opportunities to lead the way in developing these new technologies,” said Hawksworth.

“Unless a country blocks itself off from global trade and investment, which history shows would be extremely damaging economically in the long run, the technologies will still come to countries over time, so it is better to be at the forefront of this global race.”