AI to cause major realignment in UK labour market

23 July 2018

A new study has estimated that Artificial Intelligence will actually lead to a small net increase in jobs in the UK in the next 20 years. However, according to the report, it will also see a seismic shift in the allocation of UK labour, particularly with an almost 700,000 strong reduction in the manufacturing sector’s headcount – the negative effects of which will require interventions from governments and businesses, in order to mitigate.

The continued march of innovative new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have brought with them the potential for improved efficiency of resources, heightened productivity in manufacturing, and even the potential for low-cost medical care in the developing world. However, not all the effects of the new AI revolution are thought of in positive light. One of the most consistent debates on the issue, is the extent to which automation, machine learning and AI may lead to job losses.

Predictions on this front vary drastically, from McKinsey & Company’s assertion that less than 5% of jobs could in fact be completely replaced by technology – instead suggesting that over 60% of all work activities could be augmented with automation by 2055 – to the borderline dystopian vision of careers site Joblift, which estimated that Artificial Intelligence may only replace 19% of the jobs it ‘takes’. With high levels of employment having become essential to preserving the UK’s thin-spread economic growth in the absence of wage growth, such a drastic reduction in active labour would be disastrous for the UK economy, particularly post-Brexit.

Total estimated job displacement and creation from AI 2017-37 (000s)

According to the latest research from Big Four firm PwC, however, these particular fears are unfounded, at least for the next 20 years. Indeed, figures published in the professional services giant’s most recent ‘UK Economic Forecast’ anticipate that while AI and related technologies such as robotics, drones and driverless vehicles could indeed displace many humans from jobs, it will actually create a small surplus of additional jobs, as productivity and real incomes rise, and new and better products are developed thanks to new standards of efficiency brought in by AI.

In the report, PwC’s researchers estimate that the countervailing displacement and income effects on employment are, “likely to broadly balance each other out over the next 20 years in the UK, with the share of existing jobs displaced by AI (c.20%) likely to be approximately equal to the additional jobs that are created.” In other words, they anticipate that while around 7 million jobs may be displaced, an additional 169,000 more will be created by the introduction of AI into the UK economy. As the nation’s population rapidly ages, while Brexit threatens to reduce the levels of talent arriving from the EU, the UK could feasibly face a talent shortage of almost 3 million unfilled jobs by 2030, rather than mass unemployment, according to a study by Korn Ferry.

In-keeping with this, John Hawksworth, Chief Economist at PwC, said of the study’s findings, “Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains. This reduces prices and increases real income and spending levels, which in turn creates demand for additional workers.”

Estimated % of UK jobs displaced/created per sector between 2017/2033

The predictions of a slim net increase in jobs might offset some of the doomsday rhetoric surrounding the subject of AI, although the news does not come without challenges of its own. Broadly speaking, PwC’s estimates point toward a major realignment of the UK workforce. While the overall level of employment will be broadly stable until 2033, PwC suggests there will be “winners” and “losers” according to industry sectors.

Health and social work will see the largest boost to work, with a 22% net addition in jobs thanks to AI, while professional, scientific and technical services (16%) information and communication (8%), education and accommodation and food services (both 6%) will see the largest net increase in jobs in the long run. On the other hand, manufacturing is set to see a quarter of its jobs disappear, with a 25% decline in jobs in the sector. This is almost matched by transport and storage, which will likely see a 22% reduction of its roles, and public administration, which will shrink by 18%.

Manufacturing nosedive

The UK has seen the number of manufacturing jobs fall by 17% over the past decade, with around 620,000 jobs lost, according to estimates based on data from the Office of National Statistics. The nosedive is likely to continue, according to PwC’s analysis, as employment in the manufacturing sector looks set to haemorrhage nearly 700,000 jobs by 2033. Typically workers who lose their jobs in these traditional segments of employment are often lacking in skills in other areas – particularly those aged over 55 – and have often been neglected by governments and businesses in terms of their education to reposition them in new employment, in new sectors.

Estimated job displacement and creation from AI by industry sector 2017-37 (000s)

In order to mitigate the displacement effect on this large portion of the workforce, as well as to help members of the UK’s labour pool who have already found themselves out of work, PwC issued a number of recommendations to accompany its report. Most importantly, the firm suggests that the UK Government should invest more in ‘STEAM’ skills that will be most useful to people in this increasingly automated world. While this does mean pushing for schools to focus more on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), it also means Britain should explore how art and design – the ‘A’ in ‘STEAM’ – can feature at the heart of innovation. It is not solely about educating new labour, though, and PwC also states that governments have a responsibility to encourage workers to continually update and adapt their skills so as to complement what new machines and AI can do. Meanwhile, the UK Government should strengthen the state’s safety net for those who find it hard to adjust to technological changes.

Euan Cameron, UK AI leader at PwC, commented, “It’s likely that the fourth industrial revolution will favour those with strong digital skills, as well as capabilities like creativity and teamwork which machines find it harder to replicate.”

Drawing on the lessons of the past, Cameron concluded, “Historically, rapid technology change has often been associated with increases in wealth and income inequality, so it’s vital that government and business works together to make sure everyone benefits from the positive benefits that AI can bring. These include increased productivity and consumer choice, as well as improved outcomes in those areas that matter most to people such as education to healthcare.”


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High employment drives deals to access fresh talent

09 April 2019

The UK continues to have a historically low unemployment rate, resulting in a tightening employment market and demand for recruitment services. The industry topped £12.3 billion last year, while valuations continued to rachet up. There were were 32 firm acquisitions in the recruitment services space last year, up significantly on the previous five-year average.

Labour markets globally are tightening, particularly in developed economies. At the same time, access to top talent is becoming increasingly difficult to source, as demand for that talent continues to rise. Higher demand has been one of the key drivers for acquisitions in the space. New analysis of the recruitment M&A market, from consultancy firm BDO, looks at current trends and future projections for activity in the segment.

The UK employment rate has grown considerably over the past decade, with the number of NEET decreasing, more women joining the workforce, and older people continuing to work, among other trends. Participation rates hit more than 75% in 2018, up from around 73% in 2014. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.1% last year, the lowest level in more than 40 years.

UK Recruitment Market


The recruitment industry has enjoyed strong growth over the same period, with revenues increasing from around £8 billion in 2014 to £12.3 billion last year. However, the growth rate for the industry is expected to stall for the coming years – the firm is projecting annual growth of 0.1% to 2024. The stall reflects deep seated uncertainties stemming from the future of the UK, from migration to internal employment in an increasingly uncertain future.

According to the firm’s analysis of market trends for UK listed FTSE recruitment companies, their performance over 2018 outperformed the wider FTSE market by a significant market during some months – the end-of-year uncertainty hit both recruitment and non-recruitment firms with relatively equal strength. The drop partly reflects market sentiment about the future of the UK.

FTSE Listed Recruitment Firms Average EV/EBITDA Multiple


The study also considered the multiples growth, average EV/EBITDA multiples, over the past year – which has shown considerable ups and downs. The yearly average multiple of 10.4x was above that of 2017’s 9.9x – although a 26% drop at the end of the year was significant. The drop was tied to the relative volatility in macroeconomic conditions affecting the globe, though another major contributing factor has been Brexit and political instability.

Global M&A

The global recruitment M&A market was particularly active in the UK, with 32 deals last year – a five-year high, and well above the 17 recorded for second-place US. Deal activity in the UK was focused on expertise and capacity in industrial and technical sectors, reflecting skills shortages in those segments. The US was largely focused on healthcare-related M&A, representing 25% of their market.

Overall, of the 92 deals in 2018 (a 21% drop on 2017) generalist firms were the most in demand, at 25% of the total, followed by education at 14% and engineering & construction at 13%. Software saw relatively low demand, at 2%.Investment into the UK by country

In terms of investments made into the UK, domestic investment continues to be the most dominant, accounting for 24 deals. Japan made three deals, although Brexit is seeing the country become increasingly nervous about investment. The US accounted for two deals. The longer-term trend shows that domestic investment is up on 2017, hitting the highest level in five years, while the US has reduced its M&A investment into the UK.

Commenting on the results, the firm noted, “The latest report shows the recruitment sector remains strong and continued to grow through 2018 despite facing many challenges. Notwithstanding the personalised nature of these services, the market continues to evolve, seeing traditional recruitment firms utilising available technology along with new entrants showcasing innovative platforms.”

Related: High UK employment masks troubled economy.