In light of increasing commentary predicting technological unemployment, Adam Corlett of the Resolution Foundation, assesses what we know about our labour market and automation. 

Should we be concerned that robots will ‘take all the jobs’? Certainly there is no shortage of exciting new technologies on the horizon and, although predictions of technological unemployment have never yet come to pass, it is worth assessing what we know about our labour market and automation. 

A quick look at the make-up of UK employment shows just how diverse it is, with some sectors having more immediate potential for new technologies than others. Indeed, looking backwards there has been a strong link between the ‘routineness’ of occupations and their decline. While there are many other factors at play, this provides some backing to those who have tried to assess which jobs (or which tasks within them) have the highest probabilities of future automation.

The decline in routine jobs is also associated with the ‘hollowing out’ phenomenon, whereby those jobs that were in the middle of the pay distribution have fallen as a share of total employment. However, what is often overlooked is that there has been a counteracting ‘filling in’ of the middle of the labour market. Jobs such as those in secretarial work, administration and manufacturing have been replaced by (or re-categorised as) new jobs in business, management, science, teaching and care. This is why there has been little change is the distribution of pay (except for those affected by the minimum wage and those at the very top) and why the employment rate has reached record highs.

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