Will robots take your job?

10 October 2017

The impact of digital technology on the future of decent work was the discussion point at the IDS fringe events held at the recent Labour and Conservative Party Conferences. A new briefing ‘Decent Work in a Digital World’ was launched at the events, including key considerations for domestic and international policy-makers based in the UK.

Robot directing traffic in the DRC

Image credit: Brian Sokol / Panos

Advancing technology

IDS’ Digital and Technology Cluster has been examining the impact that advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence are having globally on the future of decent work. With self-driving trucks due to be tested on UK roads in 2018 and some already being piloted in the US where around three million people are employed as truck drivers, and 89 per cent of call centre jobs at potential risk from automation in the Philippines, it is a universal development issue.

The well-attended events included participants ranging from private sector technology workers, fellow academics and political party members, who discussed the implications automation could have for the UK Government and the UN Global Goals, as well as its impact on gender inequalities. 

Impact on women

The all-female speaker panel at the Labour Party Conference event included Chi Onwurah MP, Brighton-based digital technology specialist Jenni Lloyd and Karen Cham from the University of Brighton. The discussion included concerns for digital inequalities and skills gaps locally and nationally in the UK.

Many of the issues raised regarding the disproportionally negative impact automation is predicted to have on women are included in ‘Automation, Women and the Future of Work’, written by Becky Faith IDS Research Officer and Deputy Leader of the Digital and Technology Cluster, who said:

“The impact of automation and digitisation on workers is one of the key global challenges of our time.  While new technology brings potential benefits, it also poses a threat to the future of work and policies are urgently needed that tackle head on issues including how businesses will create and sustain jobs, how governments will support decent work for all and bridge the digital skills gap.”

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Impact on UK and across the world

The event at the Conservative Party Conference heard from Theodore Roos, who is currently leading a Future of Work project for the World Economic Forum and Dan Dalton MEP for the West Midlands, who campaigns for a digital single market.  Many who attended came from outside the international development world but were interested to hear from IDS Director Melissa Leach about the potential consequences of greater technology for workers across the world, as well as potential opportunities and drawbacks that automation could have for employment in the UK.

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