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Workers fear losing their jobs to AI

Experts call on employers to support workers with changes to the world of work as research reveals employee perceptions of automation and job losses

Over a third of workers (37%) believe automation will have a negative effect on their jobs, while 23% are worried their jobs will no longer be needed, according to YouGov research.

However, the survey of 1,092 workers found that 73% were confident they would be able to update their skills if technology affected their work, and 53% felt optimistic about their job prospects in light of automation.

The figures were released to coincide with trade union Community and socialist think tank the Fabian Society announcing a two-year Commission on Workers and Technology. The group aims to identify steps that the government, businesses and unions can take to support workers during the rise of AI and automation.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, chair of the Commission and Labour MP Yvette Cooper said that companies and policymakers should think about how technology can be used to better employees' working lives.

“You can look all the way back to the Industrial Revolution where people feared losing their jobs but then new jobs were created. The big question is what kinds of jobs are being created, and whether technology will be used to empower and liberate workers and to give them better-quality jobs, or instead be used to control and exploit people and create new injustices.

“You can see examples in Amazon warehouses where technology is used to monitor and control people, and to make their jobs more machine-like, rather than using technology to get rid of some of those awful jobs and give them better ones,” she said.

Cooper added that while the Commission's research showed employees felt generally positive about the future of work, they need more support from employers and the government.

“The Commission found that most people feel optimistic about their own ability, but very negative about whether they felt they were getting any support from their government, their employer, or so on," she added.

Rupal Karia, head of commercial sector at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, said that the focus should be on creating better quality jobs rather than job automation.

“Instead of looking at how technologies can reduce jobs, we should be looking at how they make way for employees to spend more time focusing on their customer, client or patients. A digital-first nation has meant that a huge amount of jobs are being – and will be – created in lieu of those at risk of disappearing,” he said.

Karia added that monitoring AI and automation’s effect on the workforce should not be down to the government alone.

“If our nation is to remain competitive it is vital that new jobs are created that will help make a better society. Emerging technologies such as AI and driverless cars are completely transforming Britain. But for these changes to remain positive, there is an urgent need for technology companies to take responsibility and ensure innovation is helping all people from all corners of the UK," he said.

“If we are to ensure the UK lives up to its digital potential it is not just the responsibility of the government to educate the public and help them on this journey. The tech sector and UK companies should join forces with the government to ensure the UK remains a global leader in an increasingly digital world.”