Where will automation hit hardest?

Artificial intelligence (AI) will affect different age groups, genders and employment sectors differently. What about geographical location? At an event hosted by PwC, Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, CBI and Universities Wales on Wednesday (18th April), a range of experts from the public and private sectors in Wales met to discuss the impact AI may have on the future shape of the Welsh economy.  To place the discussion in context, thinktank Future Advocacy presented their analysis of the likely impact AI will have on employment in every Welsh constituency.

By combining cutting-edge analysis of the automatability of different employment sectors with a granular look at the sectoral make-up of all Welsh constituencies, thinktank Future Advocacy reveal how the impact of AI and automation may vary across the nation. The proportion of jobs at high risk of automation by the early 2030s in Wales varies from 26% to over 36%, with Wales’ economic heartlands in the North and South potentially being hardest hit.

The top seven Welsh constituencies most at risk of automation by early 2030s are (in order):

Constituency Jobs at risk of automation  (as a proportion of current jobs) Assembly Member Regional Assembly Member Member of Parliament
1. Alyn and  Deeside 36% Jack Sargeant (Labour) Michelle Brown  Llyr Griffiths
Mark Isherwood
Mandy Jones
Mark Tami    (Labour)
2. Newport East 35% John Griffiths (Labour) Mohammed Asgar  Steffan Lewis
Mark Reckless David Rowlands
Jessica Morden MP (Labour)
3. Islwyn 33% Rhianon Passmore (Labour) Mohammed Asgar Steffan Lewis
Mark Reckless  David Rowlands
Chris Evans    (Labour)
4. Ynys Mon 32% Rhun ap Iorweth (Plaid Cymru) Michelle Brown Llyr Griffiths
Mark Isherwood Mandy Jones
Albert Owen  (Labour)
5. Aberavon 32% David Rees (Labour) Suzy Davies Caroline Jones
Dai Lloyd
Bethan Sayed
Stephen Kinnock
6. Torfaen 32% Lynne Neagle (Labour) Mohammed Asgar Steffan Lewis
Mark Reckless David Rowlands
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Labour)
7. Llanelli 32% Lee Waters (Labour) Suzy Davies Caroline Jones
Dai Lloyd
Bethan Sayed
Nia Griffiths  (Labour)

The top four employment sectors in Wales (by number of employees) are: human health and social work; wholesale and retail; manufacturing; and education. Of these, wholesale/retail and manufacturing are amongst the most automatable sectors, with over 40% of jobs in these sectors at high risk of automation by the early 2030s.

Despite these predictions, a YouGov online poll commissioned by Future Advocacy reveals that only 7% of UK adults are worried that their current job role will be replaced by AI. Only 28% are worried that AI will replace jobs in their local area.[1]

Dr Matthew Fenech, AI Research and Advocacy Consultant at Future Advocacy, said:

“AI is a huge economic opportunity for the UK. However, none of the major political parties have a remotely adequate strategy for dealing with the risks of these technologies. And this isn’t something that might happen in the distant future – this is happening now. We’ve just seen Shop Direct announce plans to replace three warehouses in Greater Manchester with one automated warehouse in the East Midlands. In Wales, the top 10 employers are all in sectors that we consider to be at high risk of automation.

We urgently need to identify those who are most likely to be hardest hit by automation, and to develop targeted measures to help these people. That must include financial and psychological support, as well as retraining.

We welcome the Welsh Government’s initiative in announcing a review on Digital Innovation including the impact of AI and automation, and call on the UK Government and other devolved administrations to follow suit. There will be great reward for politicians who take the lead and get this right.”

Ian Price, Director, CBI Wales said:

“Today’s conference is an opportunity to put the issue of automation and AI on the political agenda. The data revealed by Future Advocacy paints a challenging for picture for Wales but knowledge is power and while a prediction for 2030s may seem a long time away it really isn’t.  We must begin thinking today about what kind of Wales we want to emerge from the fourth industrial revolution.

While the predictions for Alyn and Deeside and the other six Welsh constituencies are particularly stark, we will be writing to each Welsh Assembly Member and Member of Parliament to inform them of Future Advocacy’s findings for their individual constituencies. We hope this information is the start of a conversation with politicians across Wales about how best we assess the risks and grasp the opportunities in the years ahead. We firmly believe the technological changes the fourth industrial revolution will bring far outweigh the threats. From improvements in healthcare to manufacturing, the opportunities are vast and wide ranging.

But as this wave of change passes through every country in the world, there will be winners and losers and the purpose of today’s event is to ensure Wales is ready to minimise the risks and maximise the benefits and emerge stronger than ever.

We congratulate the Welsh Government for their forward thinking on this area, having announced a review into industry 4.0 last month. We look forward to contributing our evidence in the months ahead.”

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales said:

“Future technologies such as automation and Artificial Intelligence play a big part in our everyday lives, and there is a growing need to understand technological innovation is about working better.  Instead of asking what will automation take away from us, we should be asking how can automation help us improve our public services and the well-being of our lives and communities.

“In Wales we are a step ahead in terms of futures thinking having passed the ground-breaking Well-being of Future Generations Act which requires public services to think long-term when making decisions.

“We already know that a reluctance to thinking long-term leads to inequalities and impacts greatly on our health, skills and general well-being. We need to be thinking about the kind of houses we will need and how technology can best support this. What will be our future transport needs and will it be as reliant on cars in the future?

“The Act gives us all the opportunity to plan, prepare and ensure that the well-being of current and future generations benefits from this innovation and doesn’t get left behind.”

Prof Julie Lydon, Chair, Universities Wales said:

“Automation and Artificial Intelligence presents both opportunities and challenges for universities in Wales, with evidence suggesting that higher level skills have a key role to play in ensuring our workforce and country is resilient to these changes. Universities in Wales are actively looking at new ways to work with people and employers to address the challenges presented by the changing nature of work. We welcome the opportunity today’s event affords us in fostering partnership working and greater mutual understanding as to how our economy and workforce will change. Exploring how we, as a country, can collectively respond to make sure that these changes are positives ones which work for the people and places of Wales. We take seriously our role in contributing to and driving the Welsh economy, working with government, employers and individuals to further economic and social prosperity.

[1] YouGov poll: all figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2108 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th September – 2nd October 2017. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).