Robots 'could make 400,000 West Yorkshire jobs obsolete in 20 years', says report

Robots and automated technology threaten to make more than a third of jobs in West Yorkshire obsolete within 20 years, a report has warned.

The study suggested the changes will not necessarily mean a loss of jobs overall, but warned inequality could get worse.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority study said more than 400,000 jobs in the region are at risk, with low-skilled and manual work potentially worst affected by automation.

The study suggested the changes will not necessarily mean a loss of jobs overall, but warned inequality could get worse as “lower paid workers (are) likely to be particularly affected by automation and other groups, like older workers, could suffer.”

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The Combined Authority will meet on Tuesday September 11 to discuss the report.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for learning, skills and employment, said: “This is something which of course can be very daunting to many.

“We must highlight the risks from economic change, particularly automation, to manufacturing jobs and administrative jobs in financial and business services. Our city will only succeed in the modern economy if we fully equip our people with the necessary skills in a changing market.”

The West Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce’s Andy Caton, who used to work in finance, a sector which has been affected by automation, said he was worried about a lack of skills in some sectors, but ultimately believes new technology will create new jobs.

He said: “From the businesses I have spoken to, I get the sense that there are lots of jobs, but there is a lack of skills and talented people to fill the roles.

“The manufacturing industry, for example, is desperately looking for skilled young people to join them.

“These reports often focus on the destructive effects, but they don’t seem to factor in the wealth creation and improvements in productivity.

“Social media marketing, for example, was an area of work that did not exist 10 years ago, and now you have experts in that field."

Phil Purnell, professor of materials and structures at the University of Leeds, said artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace could drive jobs growth in Yorkshire, an academic has said.

Insisting automation was “not something to be feared”, he said: “As robotic systems become smarter, they will be able to carry out more of the mundane, repetitive jobs, which are necessary in society.

“Changes in how businesses operate and integrate AI will create new jobs in roles we don’t yet know about, with the chance for workers to re-train and develop new skills to carry them out so they can work in more interesting and rewarding roles.”