Only 5% of young workers in Britain are in jobs that are safe from robot replacement

Automation for the nation.
Automation for the nation.
Image: Reuters/Mariana Bazo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The world is going through another technological revolution where greater use of robots, artificial intelligence, and automation can make business more efficient—potentially at the cost of millions of human jobs. Looking at Britain in particular, there’s a huge problem that young people face.

PwC just released a big report looking into the evolution of the workplace for young people 15 to 24 years old in the face of automation across 35 OECD countries—the richest countries in the world. Within that report, the PwC Young Workers Index is a weighted average of eight elements, which includes NEET (not in education, employment or training) rates, youth employment  rates, and educational participation rates. While the UK reached its best ever position in the index, it lags behind a number of other OECD countries.

PwC says that over next 15 years, up to 28% of young UK workers’ jobs could be at risk of automation, compared to 39% in US and 38% in Germany. As Quartz reported this week, Germany could still be the model other countries could base plans to protect jobs.

Naturally, those who work in industries with a high requirement for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), will be more protected from being replaced—those sectors “could be long term beneficiaries of new digital technologies such as AI and robotics.”

Except in Britain, the report found that only 5% of people 16 to 24 are employed in STEM industries right now. Nearly a quarter of the age group in the UK are employed in the wholesale and retail sector, where the potential risk of automation could be as high as 44%. Young Britons remain far down a list of OECD countries showing the percentage of new students choosing a STEM field of study (the list does not include the US in its data):

PwC warned that while the UK’s ranking is above the OECD average of 26.5%, there is a key group that is more vulnerable to automation taking away their jobs—less educated men. “50% of male young workers with GCSE equivalent or lower education are at risk of automation, compared to just 10% of men with university degrees,” said the report. “Women are on average estimated to be less susceptible to automation, with around 30% at risk for those with GCSE equivalent or lower education and 9% for those with university degrees. This reflects higher female employment in sectors like health and social care that are relatively harder to automate.”

PwC estimates that if Britain reduces the number of NEET young people to match Germany, it could boost GDP by £43 billion ($56.7 billion).

“It’s encouraging that the UK has improved young people’s job prospects significantly in recent years, but the levels of young people not in education, employment or training are still too high relative to top international performers like Germany with better vocational education systems,” said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC UK. “Regional disparities also remain a concern, particularly as poorer regions currently benefit from considerable EU funding.”

Read more: Germany has way more industrial robots than the US, but they haven’t caused job losses