Jobs that otherwise would have been spared from being replaced by robots or autonomous software are facing automation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is according to a report by the RSA published today, which has found that automation risks increasing unemployment amid the second wave as employers turn to technology to find ways to keep their businesses afloat while maintaining social distancing.

The report, Who is at Risk?, found that jobs in hospitality and manufacturing were particularly under threat, with food and beverage service, accommodation and clothing manufacturing most at risk of Covid-19-driven automation.

It also highlighted that jobs that are not considered high-risk of automation are also face being lost, increasing the challenge of high unemployment.

This includes creative arts jobs, 70% of which are furloughed but which have a low automation risk and saw a 35% rise in roles between 2011 and 2019.

Covid-19, automation and the risking risk to jobs

The combined risk of Covid-19 and automation has created an environment where many jobs are under threat, raising the prospect of future increases in unemployment.

In response to the issue, the RSA has called on the UK government to modify its Job Support Scheme to create an additional pathway for at-risk sectors that would see these roles receive more support for longer.

“Covid-19 is accelerating the rise of the robots — with some sectors seeing five years of digital transformation in five months alone — but the government’s response to the pandemic risks us losing many ‘automation-proof’ jobs,” said Fabian Wallace-Stephens, report author and senior researcher at the RSA.

“The arts and entertainment, travel and tourism, and the creative industries, are likely to be important areas for jobs growth in the future, but need more support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It also calls for the establishment of transition services that would help reallocate workers into roles with higher demand, backed by a basic income to provide them financial support while they trained. It recommended similar support for upskilling to futureproof those in high automation-risk areas.

“Many workers who need to be retrained may be lulled into a false sense of security by the current pandemic. For instance, we saw increased demand for supermarket workers during the first lockdown, but technology such as Amazon’s checkout-free stores could prove to be a gamechanger in the second wave,” added Fabian-Wallace.

“Let’s help everyone pursue good work in an age of technological change. We need targeted support for at-risk sectors with a long-term future, better support for workers including ‘job security councils’, and more retraining.”


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