By Wendy Butterworth - Careers & Welfare Manager

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Automation and its effects on the labour market

Technology and the world of work has always had an interesting relationship. On the one hand it can be exciting as it brings change, but on the other there is the fear that technology will replace our jobs. We have all heard stories in the media stating that automation could replace millions of jobs in the future, but is this true?


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted some research in March 2019 looking at the probability of automation in England. It focused its research by looking at data on the labour market from 2011 and 2017. Its aim was to link labour market data to occupation codes to determine the occupations at high, medium and low risk of automation. The research found the following “In 2017, out of the 19.9 million jobs analysed in England, 7.4% (1.5 million) people were employed in jobs at high risk of automation; a fall in absolute terms of 46,000 employees, 0.7% fewer when compared with 2011” (, 2019).

The findings from the ONS research went on to look at job growth and decline with those occupations at high risk of automation. The research found that in some occupations where you may expect to see job decline, there was actually growth.

EMSI produced a report on Automation using labour market information to determine what effect it could have. As part of that research, they found that since 2010 there has been a growth in both technology and employment, suggesting that automation may not always have an adverse effect. 

They also found that technological innovation can be highly unpredictable, and just because something is possible, does not mean it is a certainty. Technology and advancement take time and money to implement, so for some businesses the benefits of labour may outweigh the benefits of automation.

Occupation v’s Task

Both sets of research discussed above found that automation is more likely to transform an occupation, rather than replace it entirely. Automation refers to technology and harnessing new and more efficient ways of doing things, in order to improve productivity. People often think of robots when they hear automation, but robots only account for a small percentage. In fact, in manufacturing, the UK is below the international economics average for the number of robots to employees (, 2018).

The research suggests that automation will replace the more physical tasks in an occupation, for example admin activities, controlling machines, processing information. This in theory would ease the worker’s job, allowing them to do more and create new work, which may use skills at a lower risk of automation, such as assisting and caring for others, thinking creatively, teaching and guiding others (, 2019). 

The idea is that the tasks within an occupation will be able to evolve, allowing for more productivity. It also means that occupations are more reliant on a workforce that is able to be multi-tasked with well-developed transferable skills.
What is The Manchester College doing?

We are working with employers to future proof the skills gap of the future. Employers are actively involved in helping us to identify the skills gaps in the local labour market to ensure our courses meet those needs and our students leave us with the relevant skills needed to be successful. This includes teaching our learners how to use some of this new technology in the workplace.

We are also working with employers to build on our industry placement opportunities to help students gain real life work experience. This work is helping us to plan for T Levels, which we will start to deliver in September 2021.

Sources: (2019). The probability of automation in England - Office for National Statistics. (2019). Autonation. (2018). 71 industrial robots installed per 10,000 workers in UK.