Women bearing brunt of job losses as age of automation takes hold, warns RSA

By agency reporter
December 31, 2018

Women have both borne the brunt of jobs ‘lost’ to automation and austerity in the last decade while missing-out on the best-paid new jobs, according to fresh figures from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

A Field Guide to the Future of Work by the RSA Future Work Centre – established following RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor’s employment review for the Prime Minister – explores jobs growth and decline at the "sharp end of the labour market".

Among the top 20 fastest growing occupations are programmers and software developers (up by 60 percent or 136,000); HR managers and directors (68 per cent or 82,000); care workers and home carers (10 per cent or 71,000) and elementary storage occupations including warehouse workers (19 per cent or 76,000).

Meanwhile the top 20 fastest shrinking occupations are retail cashiers and checkout operators (down by 25 per cent or 59,000); bank and post office clerks (26 per cent or 39,000); telephone salespersons  (45 per cent or 24,000) and administrative occupations in central government (35 per cent or 89,000).

But the RSA warns of a 'double-whammy' hurting female workers, as women appear have both lost out on the best paid jobs in the 'new economy' and borne the brunt of austerity measures in the public sector: they account for 112 per cent of the job losses in teaching assistants (more than 100 per cent due to an increase in male teaching assistants), 81 per cent in social service managers and directors, and 74 per cent in administrative occupations in central government.

Women have also lost out in the loss of private sector roles, particularly as retail cashiers, personal assistants, hairdressers and banking clerks, the analysis adds.

Fastest growing jobs, 2011 – 2018

  • Many jobs in the ‘new economy’ are well-paid, including roles as programme developers, financial managers and HR directors, all of which pay more than £20 per hour.
  • But the list also contains many occupations associated with insecurity in the gig economy – such as van drivers and elementary storage occupations (which includes warehouse staff).

Fastest shrinking jobs, 2011 – 2018

  • Administrative and senior managerial roles in the public sector dominate the list, alongside customer-facing roles in troubled sectors such as banking and retail.
  • In a majority of professions in the list, women have lost out more than men.
  • Of the top 20 shrinking occupations, almost 400,000 (392,854) of the jobs lost were occupied by women.
  • Where figures are higher than 100 percent, it means that job losses among women amount to more than the net job losses for that occupation, with job gains among men making up the difference. For example, female teaching assistants fell by 52,000 between 2011–18,  whereas male teaching assistants grew by 5,000, equating to a net job decline of 47,000.

The analysis is set out in A Field Guide to the Future of Work, an essay collection produced by the RSA Future Work Centre, which touches on the reasons behind many of these trends:

  • Exponential rise in computing power – Technologist Calum Chace argues that the doubling of computer power every 18 months is powering automation and will lead to the decimation of industries. “In ten years”, he writes, “machines will be 128 times more powerful than the ones we have today. In 20 years they will be 8,000 times more powerful.”
  • The fall of the cathedrals – Entrepreneur Nicolas Colin claims that the power of multinational companies is ebbing away in the digital economy, and their ability to provide good jobs along with it. Big retailers like Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us and M&S have struggled to adapt to the rise of e-commerce, leading to job losses in bricks and mortar stores.
  • The quantified workplace – Academic Phoebe Moore warns that employers are deploying AI to ratchet up workplace monitoring and surveillance. This includes recruitment algorithms that can sift through and assess CVs, and which if not managed carefully risk exacerbating bias in hiring decisions.

Benedict Dellot, Head of the RSA Future Work Centre, said: “The advent of autonomous vehicles, personal voice assistants and picking and packing machines in warehouses shows that the age of automation is well and truly upon us. Contrary to what many people believe, this has not led to widespread job losses. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 45 years, and many good quality jobs are being created in the high value technology sector.

“But the forces of creative destruction can be brutal for those on the losing side. The evidence is stacking up that women are being left behind in the new economy. The cliché of tech bros is entirely warranted. Barely one in 20 new coders and programmers are women. We knew that the tech industry was highly gendered, but the scale of the problem is shocking.

“The good news is that there is time to respond. We are still in the early stages of the age of automation and many jobs are yet to be affected. The challenge for government, employers and educators is to make sure the 2020s play out differently to the 2010s, so that everyone – regardless of gender, age or location – shares in the spoils of new technology.

“This means establishing Personal Training Accounts to power lifelong learning and career changes, experimenting with Job Security Councils, as they have in Sweden, to give workers greater voice over which technology is deployed in the workplace, shifting the burden of our tax system away from workers to those who own the ‘machines’, and adopting new standards that prevent excessive monitoring and surveillance in the workplace”.

Sean Nesbitt, partner and employment law expert at Taylor Wessing, said: “It is right to focus on reskilling and lifelong learning. At a time when retailers and other employers are under huge pressure to adapt their cost bases, they need policy- based encouragement and support in taking the long view to contribute to the education of the workforce.

"Right now, employers have their own double whammy: they are facing a wave of equal pay litigation brought by those women whose current jobs are declining and who compare their earnings with male- dominated 'new jobs' in logistics. 

"The surveillance and data economy could work to women’s advantage in demonstrating similar levels of productivity - as long as rights aren’t abused in gathering data, and it’s accessible to the people it’s about.

"The hope is that this Field Guide will help a debate where social partners and policymakers look beyond today’s crises to work out longer term strategies. Robbing Petra to pay Paul clearly isn’t one."

* Read  A Field Guide to the Future of Work here

* The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce  https://www.thersa.org/

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