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Robots ‘will create double the jobs they destroy’

Written by Hannah McGrath
17/09/2018

Robots are likely to create double the number of jobs that are displaced by technological disruption within the next seven years, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

A new report into the future of the workplace predicts that by 2025 more than half of all current workplace tasks will be performed by machines, as opposed to just 29 per cent currently, resulting in a total loss of 75 million jobs.

However, the analysis also suggests that new technology will create 133 million new jobs - more than twice the number of roles they will replace - as the workplace transforms and employees move to re-skill and adapt.

The largely upbeat findings are in contrast with growing concerns among government and industry groups that automation could result in the loss of millions of jobs, resulting in lower pay, chronic unemployment and the associated health and public policy challenges for individuals and communities.

A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute suggested that rising automation will result in 800 million people worldwide being jobless

The WEF surveyed chief human resources officers and top strategy executives from companies across 12 industries and 20 developed and emerging economies, accounting for 70 per cent of global GDP.

The report found that 54 per cent of employees currently working in large companies would need significant re-skilling and up-skilling, while just over half of the companies surveyed said they planned to re-skill only employees that are in key roles.

Just one third reported plans to re-skill at-risk workers to protect them from the instability of the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Accordingly, half of the companies asked said they expected their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 as a result of automation.

However, in line with the WEF analysis on job greater job creation, 40 per cent expected to extend their workforce generally and more than a quarter expected automation to create new roles in their enterprise.

The report concluded that the key challenges for major companies as part of the transformation of work include re-skilling opportunities, enabling employees to work remotely and building safety nets to protect at-risk workers and communities.

Responding to the findings, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through re-skilling and up-skilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation.”

Guy Kirkwood, chief evangelist at UiPath, a software company that provides robotic process automation, said it was positive to see the transformative potential of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) being recognised.

He said that contrary to widespread scare stories around an automated workplace, “automation will boost employment and increase the creative potential of the human workforce”.

Kirkwood added that the WEF report echoed the findings of recent survey of 1,000 UK workers conducted by UiPath, which found that 78 per cent of employees do not fear losing their jobs to automation and more than half (58 per cent) who have experience automated processes said it had a positive impact on their job.