Up to 861,000 UK public sector jobs could be automated by 2030

Experts say technology is set to transform public services in the United Kingdom. They predict that, by 2030, as many as 861,000 public sector jobs could be automated. This would cut the public sector wage bill by £17 billion and reduce the workforce by 16 percent.

The figures appear in the latest State of the State annual analysis of the UK’s public sector by Deloitte and the think tank Reform.

The analysis draws on previous research by Deloitte and the University of Oxford.

public sector jobs policeThe analysis classes police officers as having interactive jobs. These roles have a 23 percent probability of being automated. Image: police officers on the streets of Liverpool, courtesy of pixabay.

Mike Turley, Global Public Sector Leader at Deloitte, says:

“Across all sectors of the economy, technological advances mean that repetitive and predictable tasks are increasingly undertaken by robots – either in the form of software or devices. The public sector is no different.”

In previous research, the business advisory giant had already deduced that automation is set to transform all sectors of the UK economy.

Automation is the system, technique or method of controlling or operating processes by highly automatic means, in most cases with sophisticated devices equipped with artificial intelligence (AI).

They predict, for instance, that over the next two decades: 74 percent of transportation and storage jobs, 59 percent of wholesale and retail jobs, and 56 percent of manufacturing jobs are highly likely to be automated.

Public sector less likely to be affected by automation

In the public sector, there are high numbers of jobs that are at much lower risk of automation, such as teaching, caring, and other jobs with a high level of person-to-person interaction.

This means that overall, the public sector is likely to be less affected by automation. However, Turley says, “automation still has significant potential to support cost reduction, meet citizens’ expectations of public services, free up real estate, save staff time and improve productivity.”

Technology is already transforming many areas of public services, says Turley. Robotic systems are providing data entry support in local government and driverless trains are becoming more common.

Also, sensor technology that monitors vital health signs is freeing up nurses and carers so they can spend more time interacting with hospital patients and care home residents.

Three main categories: administrative, interactive, cognitive

For the analysis, Deloitte analyzed public sector jobs in three main categories, each with a different profile and likelihood of being automated by 2030:

Administrative and operative – roles where much of the work is repetitive and predictable. These have a 77 percent probability of being automated. Examples include desk-based administrators and jobs requiring physical skills. About 27 percent of public sector workers – 1.3 million jobs – fall into this category.

Interactive – roles that involve a high level of person-to-person interaction. These have a 23 percent probability of being automated. Examples include teachers, social workers, police officers, nurses, and care workers. About 52 percent of public sector workers – 2.6 million jobs – fall into this category.

Cognitive – roles that involve a lot of complex reasoning and strategic thinking. At 14 percent, these have the lowest chance of being automated. Examples include chief executives, finance directors, health care practice managers, and senior officers in the fire, ambulance and prison services. About 20 percent of public sector workers – 1.0 million jobs – fall into this category.

Impact of automation will be gradual

Turley says the impact of automation will be gradual – employees will not find themselves displaced by robots overnight. He says their research suggests as more and more jobs become automated, there will be new, higher-skilled, better paid jobs.

For example, there will be many jobs, particularly those involving a lot of thinking and reasoning, where automation is likely to complement rather than replace the role.

He gives the example of senior officers in the police, fire, and prison services who may well find themselves using data analytics to help them understand demands for their services and performance and make better decisions. He concludes:

“In future, it will become even more important for the public sector to attract people with strong social and cognitive skills. A larger portion of the public sector will need to undertake complex, judgement-based problem solving and customer service as machines take over repetitive, administrative tasks.”

Sue Evans, president of the Public Service People Managers’ Association – a membership body of public sector professionals working in human resources and organizational development – is not surprised by the study. She says in a comment to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD):

“Local government funding is in such an appalling state that councils are looking for ways to reduce time-consuming face-to-face contact. There is some very interesting work going on across the country with robotics.”