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July 25, 2018updated 23 Dec 2019 12:41pm

AI will force millions to switch careers over the next two decades: PwC

AI will not result in large-scale unemployment, but it will force millions to retrain and switch careers over the next 20 years, according to a report by PwC.

By Lucy Ingham

The report found that AI will create around the same number of jobs as it destroys, dismissing previous fears that it would lead to rampant unemployment. However, it also found that there will be “winners” and “losers”, with some industries seeing significant decline in jobs while others will see a rise.

“Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains,” said PwC chief economist John Hawksworth.

“This reduces prices and increases real income and spending levels, which in turn creates demand for additional workers.

“Our analysis suggests the same will be true of AI, robots and related technologies, but the distribution of jobs across sectors will shift considerably in the process.”

The winning industries in the AI revolution

The impact on industries is wildly uneven, although the changes are relatively predictable.

On the winning side, professional, scientific and technical services will see a +16% rise in jobs in UK, reflecting the greater focus on technology and science-related positions. Education will also see a +6% rise.

Interestingly, healthcare is set for the biggest growth, projected to be +22%.

“Healthcare is likely to see rising employment as it will be increasingly in demand as society becomes richer and the UK population ages,” explained Hawksworth.

“While some jobs may be displaced, many more are likely to be created as real incomes rise and patients still want the ‘human touch’ from doctors, nurses and other health and social care workers.”

The industries losing out to artificial intelligence

On the losing side are more manually focused industries that are being displaced by greater automation.

“As driverless vehicles roll out across the economy and factories and warehouses become increasingly automated, the manufacturing and transportation and storage sectors could see a reduction in employment levels,” said Hawksworth.

Manufacturing will be worst hit, with a -25% loss; about 700,000 jobs. Close behind is transport and storage, at -22%, and public administration comes in third, at -18%.

Many will need to gain more skills to switch careers

While there will be jobs available for those who lose out to AI, the challenge comes in the related skillsets. The new jobs created will generally require higher technical skills than those lost, forcing many to retrain to remain in employment.

“As driverless vehicles roll out across the economy and factories and warehouses become increasingly automated, the manufacturing and transportation and storage sectors could see a reduction in employment levels,” said PwC UK AI leader Euan Cameron.

This will also create a challenge for businesses, as if not enough displaced workers retrain adequately, companies will struggle to find enough skilled candidates to fill positions.

Business and government support needed to support mass retraining PwC urges the UK government and businesses to work together to ensure enough people are going to successfully switch careers to support the AI revolution.

The company advises that there should not only be a focus on STEAM skills in education, but that current employees should be more greatly supported to update and adapt their skills.

Furthermore, PwC suggests that the government should “strengthen the safety net” for those who cannot easily gained the skills required.

“Historically, rapid technology change has often been associated with increases in wealth and income inequality, so it’s vital that government and business works together to make sure everyone benefits from the positive benefits that AI can bring,” said Cameron.

“These include increased productivity and consumer choice, as well as improved outcomes in those areas that matter most to people such as education to healthcare.”

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