Is the UK really about to lose six million jobs?

According to a recent report by the Tony Blair Institute more than 5.9 million jobs – equivalent to 18% of the UK’s workforce – could be lost offshore after the pandemic.

A statement within the report said: “Having put in place the digital infrastructure to make remote working possible, businesses, especially larger ones, are likely to persist with it even after the pandemic in order to reduce overheads, boost productivity and recruit talent from a wider geography. As a result, they may opt to employ only the core staff required for in-person collaboration and decision-making while outsourcing and offshoring those who are not.”

Almost six million ‘white-collar’ jobs will now supposedly be at risk of lost to companies abroad if the work from home (WFH) trend continues, according to the research. The ‘mass experiment’ has now taken a turn towards the most highly-skilled workers, and their plans for the future.

But will this actually happen if we continue to work from home?

The former Prime Minister stated in his foreword: “The immediate consequences of the pandemic on the economy and jobs and the need for supportive government action were always clear. But what is becoming clearer is that the experience of people and businesses managing the crisis has brought about a fundamental change in attitudes to work and technology.

“This report pieces together the data from various different sources and finds that roughly one in five jobs in the UK, or 6 million jobs, can now be classified as “Anywhere Jobs”, with characteristics that mean they can be done remotely or principally remotely as efficiently or more efficiently than in normal office working.

“It is also clear that for many employees, the experience of working from home has been beneficial and is likely to remain their preference, at least for certain days of the week. This is a vast and profound change in the world of work, with many implications for the jobs themselves and secondary effects on businesses that serve the conventional office.

“On the one hand, there is a risk that employers decide that Anywhere Jobs can be done as easily by those working abroad; on the other hand, if Britain takes the necessary measures of preparation to facilitate such working here, we could attract jobs from abroad.

“The point is: this is a change that requires government to develop a strategy. It is part of the way working lives are going to change through new technology. In this report, we analyse these changes and suggest ways government could assist those jobs to come to the UK and to ensure that greater working from home is accommodated and helped. It is an important contribution to the new progressive political agenda, built around the acknowledgement that the world is changing fast and all countries must adapt and prepare to preserve and enhance prosperity.”

What does the future hold?

Chris Atkinson – Managing Director of Strategic Leadership UK

We have a tendency to see change as threatening, there is clearly a huge change in the nature of both the job market and the way companies recruit/fill roles however I don’t believe we need to be threatened by this change. One thing that I’ve seen for sure is people relocating without concern for their job security and companies recruiting without concerns for geography. I don’t believe this is the same as outsourcing, if anything I would say the opportunities in the job market have widened considerably. In the last month alone I’ve worked with an HR director who relocated to the south of France and a L&D manager moved from the midlands to the north of England neither person felt the need for a daily commute to the office.

UK workers need to realise they are now able to access a global marketplace without relocating! This change should be seen as a massive opportunity.

To my mind in a global economy ‘outsourcing’ is just a different allocation of resources and working practices, it redistributes rather than adds/removes. The big change is surely Artificial Intelligence, that is a topic all of my clients are investing heavily in. As part of Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence has the potential to totally transform working practices across all industries. Until now the growth in robotics and automation generally only affected roles based on physical work however, as Artificial Intelligence becomes ever more sophisticated it will also profoundly affect traditional office functions. The implications are at times mind boggling. Upskilling and preparing for this change should be a priority of anyone planning to be in the job market in the next 5-10 years!

Dr. Kathy Hartley, Lecturer in People Management – Salford Business School

Could this really be a reality? Or is it scaremongering?

In recent years we’ve witnessed a variety of predictions about the potential for automation and outsourcing to result in job losses, some apocalyptic, some more measured, at both a national and international level. For sure, the nature of work, in terms of what it consists of, where it is done, is changing, and the pandemic appears to have focused both organisations and employees’ mindsets on this more quickly than might otherwise have been the case. Right now a lot of organisations are in discussion with their workforce about what can be done remotely, and where at least some face-to-face time for collaboration is needed. Over the next 18 months I think we will start to see any new patterns of work emerging, and I think there will be a real mix.

Will these jobs be replaced and where may they be lost?

More routine tasks and jobs, for instance in manufacturing and production, have been lost to outsourcing and automation for some time. Digitisation and AI is, and will, impact how work is done in a range of roles – drivers, waitressing staff, accountancy, medicine, HR, and so on. Certain aspects of many roles will be feasible remotely, and this will provide opportunities for some workers. New roles, associated with the shift to and implementation of AI and digitisation, are also emerging.

Any other insight or opinion you may have

Because work can be automated or done remotely doesn’t mean it will be. Organisations at the forefront of technological advancements are the ones we also now see looking at how they can successfully integrate people and technology, due to the distinct skills and contribution each can make.

Is it ‘selfish’ to work from home?

In a recent article for CityAM, Andrew Carter, CEO of Centre for Cities suggested that is was ‘selfish’ to continue working from home. According to Carter, the attitude to the workplace is a generational one and he believes older workers prefer to work remotely, something he says ‘selfishly’ disadvantages younger employees.

This is due to them apparently having less suitable living situations and lacking the opportunity to develop soft skills. He continues to argue that homeworking is bad for companies across the country – as the staff are missing out from being in the office.

Within the article, he explains how younger workers are keener to return to the office, and he states: “They have been robbed of the chance to mix with colleagues and forge the friendships and networks that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their careers. There is also a bigger problem slowly working its way to the surface: working from home will likely stunt their professional development, which will, obviously, be detrimental to them, but also for firms who will end up with a less impressive cohort of workers as a result. While the executive class is breathing in the country air, the long term stability of their staff is under threat.”

He concludes his thoughts by suggesting that post-pandemic, the governent should encourage older workers back into the office.

Whether you are for or against a full-time return to the office – we would like to hear from you – so please comment below.