By Mark Fairlie

The UK thinktank, Centre for Cities, has announced that as many as 3.6 million jobs could be replaced by machines by the year 2030.

The news came in a report released earlier this week, stating that almost a third of all jobs in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire were at high risk of being taken over by robots in the next few decades.

The Centre of Cities went on to say that this switch to automation and globalisation would also cause a boost in jobs across British cities in the future.

But, with struggling cities in the North and Midlands set to experience many more job losses than wealthier Southern cities, the thinktank has warned that it will likely further deepen the North/South divide in the UK.

Which cities will be the worst affected?

The report found cities in the North East to be particularly vulnerable. Sunderland was placed at the second most ‘at risk’ English city, with more than 37,700 jobs – or 29% of the workforce – at risk of being replaced by automation.

Neighbouring areas of Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside ranked further down the list in 23rd place, with 97,800 jobs to be replaced in total. Collectively, these cities scored 2% higher than the 21% UK average number of jobs seen as at risk of automation.

The most vulnerable city in the UK, however, was found to be Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. This small Midlands town, located near the Sports Direct warehouse, had the highest percentage of ‘at risk’ occupations within its workforce.

According to the report, lower-skill sectors such as customer services, retail sales, administration and warehouse work were the most likely to be made obsolete by automation.

In Mansfield alone, 16% of jobs are in retail and 10% are in warehouse or admin roles. In addition to the Sports Direct warehouse, the town’s main employers include the print and packaging firm Linney and electronic appliance company Glenair – meaning machinery is poised to take the burden of a majority of the town’s labour.

Cities Outlook 2018 also reported that automation could cost 230,000 jobs in Scotland in just the next ten years, meaning 1 in 5 Scottish jobs could be displaced by 2030.

Chief executive of the Centre for Cities, Andrew Carter, has said government action will be needed to prevent this social divide being exacerbated by a rise in automation. He said “In an ever more divided country, it’s increasingly clear that a one-size-fits-all approach from central government is inadequate to address the myriad issues that different places face…

“The government needs to give cities more powers and resources to tackle the issues that automation and globalisation will present, and to make the most of the benefits they will bring.”

Could automation still be a good thing for the UK?

Whilst the UK average of jobs at risk of being replaced by automation stands at 21%, the figure stands at a much lower 13-18% for wealthier locations closer to London, Cambridge and Oxford.

Despite the fact that many jobs will be made obsolete, the thinktank believes that technological advances such as automation will also see the creation of new industries and jobs across the UK.

“Successful cities in the south are better placed to secure more high-skilled, high-paying jobs in future,” says the Centre for Cities, however, some three in every ten new jobs created in the North and the Midlands will still be in low-skilled occupations; meaning the gap in living standards will remain significant.

In response to this, Carter has also called for both educational reforms and greater investments in technology to help workers embrace the shift. He says, “National and local leaders need to ensure that people in cities across the North and Midlands can share in the benefits these changes could offer.

“That means reforming the education system to give young people the cognitive and interpersonal skills they need to thrive in the future, and improving school standards, especially in places where jobs are most at risk.”