Masses of public sector jobs ‘could be lost to automation’

25 Oct 16

Up to 861,000 public sector jobs could be automated by 2030, according to research, although the most senior positions are expected to be spared the cull.

In its annual State of the State report, Deloitte said the public sector was at relatively lower risk of automation than other sectors less dependent on personal interaction.

Despite this, some 16% of public sector workers could be affected, with only around 4,000 administrative posts left by 2030 against 87,000 last year and 99,000 in 2001.

By contrast, it said 74% of jobs in transportation and storage, 59% in wholesale and retail and 56% in manufacturing had a high chance of being automated.

The forecast replacement of jobs by automation could save the public sector up to  £17bn in wages by 2030 with administrative and operative roles “in which activities are most repetitive and predictable” being particularly vulnerable with a 77% probability of being automated.

Interactive roles such as teachers, social workers and police officers were at lesser risk, with 23% liable to be automated, while senior roles that “mostly require strategic thinking and complex reasoning, including finance directors and chief executives”, faced only a 14% likelihood of being replaced by machines.

Deloitte’s global head of public sector Mike Turley said: “The public sector has a high number of public-facing roles, particularly those in areas such as education and caring. These will be relatively safe from automation and could see the public sector impacted less than other sectors.

“However, automation still has significant potential to support cost reduction, meet citizens’ expectations of public services, free up real estate, save staff time and improve productivity.”

Turley said examples of public sector automation could already be seen, for example, in robots used in local government data entry, driverless trains and sensor technology to monitor patients in hospitals and care homes.

He said the impact of automation on jobs would be “gradual and manageable” and while there might be social or political resistance to its full deployment, displaced roles would be replaced by “new, higher-skilled and better paying jobs”.

It would become increasingly important for the public sector to recruit people with strong cognitive skills who could use data analytics to inform their decisions as “a larger portion of the public sector will need to undertake complex, judgement-based problem solving and customer service as machines take over repetitive, administrative tasks”, Turley said.

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