Rise of the robots! Advances in technology could pose ‘colossal risk’ to thousands of Teesside jobs

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A warning has been sounded that careers such as lorry driving will “cease to exist” as technology advances. 

Stockton Council careers guru Ian Caley warned there were “colossal risks” to future jobs as automation took on more roles at a meeting looking into young people’s prospects.

More than 130,000 positions will need to be filled in the next five years in the region, according to figures from the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).

And Mr Caley told councillors there was a “colossal risk” to a lot of professions as AI (artificial intelligence) and “machine learning” marched on.

Analysis by the Office of National Statistics shows 220,000 jobs across the Teesside area are at risk of being taken over by machines.

Automation involves replacing tasks currently done by workers with technology, which could include computer programs, algorithms, or even robots.

The figure includes 23,000 jobs that are at a high risk of automation – where the chance that the roles will be replaced by technology is above 70%.

The majority of those – 13,000 – are classed as “elementary” roles – in other words, low-skilled and routine work.


A further 3,000 relate to process, plant and machine operation, while 4,000 are sales and customer service roles, and 2,000 are administrative and secretarial jobs.

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There were also 149,000 jobs at a medium risk of automation (between 30% and 70% chance of being replaced by robots) and 48,000 jobs at a low risk (below 30% chance of being replaced).

The figures are based on 2017 population figures.

The HGV industry has faced a tough time of late with a chronic shortage of drivers nationwide and few under-25s entering the industry.

While Mr Caley sought to bust myths about the jobs of the future “not being invented yet”, he also told panellists the prospect of driver-less cars and lorries meant “HGV driving will probably cease to exist”.

He added: “Aspects of law like conveyancing will probably cease to exist and many routine and process driven tasks will continue to be lost.

“If you think about car manufacturing 50 years ago there were lots of very process driven jobs and most of those are performed by machines now – it’s a continuation of this.

“What we’re looking at in terms of the workforce is workers will need higher level qualifications in the vast majority of sectors.

“The future workforce will need to be very adaptable, agile and open to new technology.”

 

James Bower, from the United Road Transport Union (URTU), warned the shortage of drivers and young people coming through had been a long-standing problem in the haulage industry.

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But when it came to technological changes, he didn’t think drivers were quite done yet.

Mr Bower added: “I don’t think lorry drivers are going to disappear off the face of the Earth very quickly – at the moment we have a huge driver shortage because of the situation drivers are in.

“It’s the lack of roadside facilities and the ageing population of drivers we have.

“It’s very difficult to get young people to have an interest in becoming drivers when they hear about being away from home for long periods of time and sleeping in cabs at the side of the road.

“With time, it will become automated – but that could be 20, 50 or 100 years down the line.”

Prestons of Potto
Prestons of Potto

Haulage firm Prestons of Potto have been working on Teesside for decades – with a fleet of 30 trucks at its Stockton depot.

Traffic manager Jamie Preston told the Local Democracy Reporting Service how only four of the 30 drivers are aged 30 or under.

However, automation wasn’t at the top of his list of concerns.

He added: “I think the problem is the young ones are getting their Class 1 licence but they’re told they need experience – and they’re finding they’re not getting a job at the end of it.

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“We tend to take on and train up new drivers but it’s such a competitive industry – we’ve had a lot of ex-military people through in the past five or 10 years in their 20s who have Class 1s and Class 2s who want a change of career.”

Mr Preston said the firm encouraged new drivers to “give it a go” but most its drivers were over 50.

“We’re willing to work with someone and train them up from scratch but the way it’s going, it’s an ageing population,” he added.

“Quite a few of our drivers are over 65 but still working. We’ve even a lad who’s 76 or 77 working every day.”

 



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