Automation Threatens to Widen North-South Divide

For years, northern industry was at the forefront of England’s economy. From the industrial revolution which traces its roots from Lancashire cotton mills, to coal mining across Yorkshire and the North-East, Britain was powered by Northern workers. That is until technology began to make more and more jobs redundant, and deindustrialise the region. History may be about to repeat itself.

English Fine Cottons

This time, it is due to automation and artificial intelligence. A recent report has estimated that 800 million workers could lose their jobs by 2030, and be replaced instead by robotic automation. Again, Northern England could be about to feel the effects, with nine areas set to lose more than a quarter of total jobs. It is predicted that towns with “a lower share of high-skilled jobs” such as Sunderland, Mansfield, and local Wakefield could bear the brunt of the effect, losing up to 30% of current positions.

Becoming Human

Roles in shops, administration and warehouses are said to be the most at risk, as technological advances begin to cut costs for producers, offering better alternatives to human labour. Amazon Go recently opened their first AI store in Seattle, USA, and more retailers look set to follow suit. The rise of self-service checkouts, seen in most major supermarkets, is an example of the impact automation has already had on retail jobs.

Areas with a higher percentage of workers in high-skilled jobs could still feel the effects of AI pressure, particularly in admin roles, although not as much as the aforementioned northern towns. Andrew Carter, the chief executive of Centre for Cities, an organisation dedicated to improving UK city economies, is fearful that robots and AI could “compound” the north-south divide.

In order to prevent a spike in unemployment and a pool of workers with redundant skills, the government is keen to address the situation, and has said that developing AI could lead to a net increase of 80,000 jobs a year. However, it is clear that this can only be the case if education and training is reassessed, equipping workers with the skills needed for jobs of the future.

Whatever the outcome, northern industrial jobs could be in danger once more.

Charlie Harrocks

Image: [IB Times UK]