Report: Civil servants ‘should not fear rise of automation’

Written by Jim Dunton on 28 September 2017 in News
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Study argues that key public sector roles are among the least threatened by new technology

Staff in the civil service should not be paranoid about the security of their jobs in the face of continued advances in technology, according to a new report.

The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 argued that while UK workers should be prepared for a general rise in automation, education, healthcare and occupations in the wider public sector will be relatively immune from the trend.

The report, produced by global innovation foundation Nesta and Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School, in conjunction with education firm Pearson, names transport and traditional manufacturing as the main areas where a decline in employment is anticipated over the next decade and beyond.


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It says knowledge areas such as English language, history, philosophy, administration and management are all generally associated with occupations forecast to see a rise in workforce share.

More generally, it pointed to a need for current workers to ensure that they maintain skills in areas of demand, as well as ensuring they are able to apply “uniquely human” skills – such as social perceptiveness, active listening, judgement, and decision making.

The report predicts a general “evolution” of clerical occupations, in which the use of those uniquely human skills is complemented by new skills, such as the application of data science knowledge.

The report does not consider the impact of the significant reduction in headcount seen in most national and local services since 2010.

However, it does, acknowledge the impact of global and regional political uncertainty on long-term employment trends, with the 9/11 terror attacks cited as a peak. It also cites the "green economy" as one area particularly susceptible to government-level policy reversals.

Pearson chief executive John Fallon said the future of work was brighter than conventional wisdom suggested.“It is not going to be human versus machine, but rather human and machine,” he said.

Nesta executive director for creative economy and data analytics Hasan Bakhshi added most people could still look forward to having a degree of control over the jobs they would do.

“While there is no shortage of research assessing the impacts of automation on individual occupations, there is far less that focuses on skills, and even less so that has actionable insights for stakeholders in areas like job redesign and learning priorities,” he said.  “The future of work for most people is not inevitable.”

Last month it emerged the Cabinet Office had commissioned IT consultant Capgemini to conduct a £4m project to explore the potential of robotic process automation across Whitehall.

The deal is understood to involve the creation of a development facility for creating new applications and a teaching centre to help staff learn about how this could help them in their work.

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