The fate of the once ubiquitous costermonger is instructive. In 1911, there were almost 70,000 of these street sellers. But, the occupation – along with domestic servants, washers and manglers, coachmen and grooms – has all but died out as a result of automation.
The analysis comes from a new study that examines the impact of automation on employment in our cities, and highlights the challenges and the opportunities for supply chains of the next generation of technologies.
At first sight, the report “Cities Outlook 2018” by the Centre for Cities, makes for grim reading. It suggests that about 3.6 million jobs, some 20 per cent, in cities across the country are at risk from automation, AI and robotics.
In Sunderland, Mansfield, Wakefield and Stoke, almost 30 per cent of the current workforce is in an occupation that is likely to shrink by 2030.
Warehouse jobs (or elementary storage occupations in the parlance of the study) are one of the areas most at risk. Nationally, they account for 6.6 per cent of all jobs at risk, but in places like Milton Keynes and Wakefield that figure rises to almost 18 per cent.
However, the report points out that this is nothing new – costermongers and coachmen might have disappeared, but those jobs have been replaced. In fact, it says: “Despite the pressures of automation and globalisation, most cities have seen jobs growth over the last century.”
And it forecasts that all cities are likely to see job creation to 2030. “As has happened over the last century, the labour market will continue to evolve – new occupations will arise and some occupations that already exist will become increasingly important.”
Of course, this will not happen by magic. As supply chains undergo the transformation that AI and robotics is driving, there is the need to find workers with the requisite skills for the new occupations that will arise.
Making that transition is a challenge that needs to be addressed now.