How will automation transform selling floor jobs?
According to a new report from PwC, 44 percent of workers in the U.K. in the wholesale and retail trade are susceptible to losing their jobs to automation from robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) by the early 2030s.
Among major occupations, transportation and storage (56 percent) and manufacturing (46 percent) were ranked slightly higher. Education, health and social work face the lowest risks.
“Social skills are relatively less automatable,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, in a statement.
A Deloitte study from 2015 found retail cashiers faced a 97 percent probability of losing their jobs to automation, while shopkeepers and proprietors (wholesale and retail) faced only a 16 percent probability. Deloitte said technology is replacing “dangerous, unpleasant, boring and unrewarding tasks” with “higher-skilled, non-routine jobs that require dexterity, creativity, digital know-how and other ‘softer’ people skills.”
While the risks of job loss to robots is often predicted, automation boosts productivity and should create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as extra wealth is spent or invested, states PwC. The consultancy also noted that the UK employment rate is at its highest level now since comparable records began in 1971, despite many advances already in digital and other labor-saving technologies.
Another risk with automation is that income inequality may widen with wealth shifting toward those with the knowledge and skills that support a more digital economy. Said Jon Andrews, head of technology and investments at PwC, “Creative and critical thinking will be highly valued, as will emotional intelligence.”
The impact of automation on jobs may be slowed by the technology’s effectiveness, cost, legal and regulatory hurdles, organizational inertia and legacy systems. However, higher wages and shifts to online selling are said to be accelerating retailers’ investments in automation.
- Up to 30% of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation by early 2030s, but this should be offset by job gains elsewhere in economy – PwC
- UK economic outlook – PwC
- From brown to brains: The Impact of technology on jobs in the UK – Deloitte
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you see automation recasting retail jobs? Which roles will disappear and what new ones will automation create?