Will a robot take over your job?

Fear of technology taking our jobs runs deep. As long ago as 1589, Elizabeth I denied a patent to a newfangled knitting machine, saying: “Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”

The threat today is from artificial intelligence, the technology allowing robots and computers to take on sophisticated tasks in fields including law and accounting. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned of a “hollowing out of many middle-class services jobs through machine learning and global sourcing”, putting 15 million Britons out of work. “Alongside its great benefits, every technological revolution mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods . . . well before the new ones emerge,” he added.

It’s a scary picture, brought home by the announcement from Capita, the outsourcing company, that 2,000 of its staff are to lose their jobs and be replaced by robots. These workers will gain little comfort from economists who say that trends suggest that more jobs will be created in the sophisticated economy than are lost to machines.

While technology contributed to the loss of about 800,000 lower-skilled jobs between 2001 and 2015, it helped to create 3.5 million higher-skilled jobs in their place, according to Deloitte. Each of these paid £10,000 more per year than the jobs lost, adding £140 billion to the economy through increased wages. Many men who have lost jobs in manufacturing have moved into project management, and women who lost secretarial jobs moved into social care, the company says.

Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice-chairman of Deloitte, is optimistic that this trend will continue.

As examples of the direction of things, the Amazon Go grocery store doesn’t have checkouts or cashiers but does employ chefs to make sandwiches and salads. A care home might employ robots to lift patients but could invest the money saved to recruit specialists to cut their hair or perform physiotherapy.

Some jobs, however, are more at risk than others.

Admin and call centres

The number of personal assistant and secretarial jobs has halved since the start of the millennium and those left are at high risk from automation, according to analysts. The most skilled assistants will survive because chief executives will still want human expertise but more middle managers will make do with machines.

More than a million people work in call centres and they’re often in areas that suffered big job losses from industrial decline. These jobs are now at risk from robotic systems that can answer questions and deal with everyday issues, but Mr Knowles-Cutler said that many workers were likely to be kept on to deal with more complex customer-service problems.

Factory workers who have gone through decades of insecurity as a result of automation and overseas competition will be hit by more of the same. “Lights-out” automated factories overseen by a handful of technicians are the norm in parts of Asia. Sixteen per cent of UK companies plan to buy fully autonomous production-line robots in the next five years and more are investing in semi-autonomous technology. There should be some respite for workers, however, because of a skills shortage.

Amazon has unveiled a store in Seattle where customers walk in, take what they want from the shelves and walk out. Sensors monitor their purchases and bill their online account. Although self-checkouts have already done away with some cashiers’ jobs, this goes to another level, and analysts say that roles such as shelf-stackers will go too. New roles will include shop-floor “greeters” and more staff making fresh food.

In the longer run, some believe that most bricks and mortar stores will become obsolete as drone deliveries make e-shopping even easier.

If driverless cars and lorries become standard in the next ten years, many driving jobs would be lost. Haulage companies are sceptical, however, with many saying that fully automated lorries are more suited to the long, relatively empty roads of the US and Australia than Britain’s congested motorways.


Automated milking machines have been common since the 1990s and the next generation of technology could enable arable crops to be monitored and harvested using autonomous tractors and combine harvesters. Staff at Harper Adams University in Shropshire are working on farming cereal crops without setting foot in the field, and technology start-ups are working hard to automate fruit-picking. This will mean job losses for some labourers and seasonal workers. Optimists believe that some of those who are displaced will move into new roles as farms diversify, processing produce for a farm café or shop.

Almost 40 per cent of legal jobs are at risk from automation, Deloitte says, with machines able to tackle many clerical tasks, and firms are investing in artificial-intelligence technology. Intelligent searches can already outperform junior lawyers in reviewing documents and selecting the most relevant for a case. Low-level tasks can also be outsourced to countries such as India.

Since 2001, technology has contributed to the loss of 31,000 jobs in the profession but there has been an overall increase of about 80,000, most of which are higher-skilled, better-paid jobs such as barristers and solicitors. The big losers have been secretaries and paralegals, and some firms have cut training contracts. finance Two thirds of staff in “branch-heavy” retail banks do jobs that could be automated, Citi forecasts. The extent to which machines have taken over was demonstrated in October when automated trading systems were blamed for the flash crash in the value of the pound.

In accountancy, machines can read company documents to flag anomalies for accountants to focus on. It’s debatable whether the total number of workers in financial services will fall, because the quantity of financial data will keep accountancy companies busy.

Staffing still accounts for half of the operating costs of big hotel chains and the industry is constantly looking for efficiencies, so check-in kiosks and gadgets making guests coffee will proliferate. However, bosses stress that the strength of the industry can be maintained only with human skills. Companies in Japan have already ditched robot waiters.

The industry says it’s short-staffed in any case.

Health and social care

Deloitte’s research has found that 1.35 million jobs — 28 per cent of the workforce — have a high chance of being automated in the next 20 years. However, almost half (2.25 million) are at low risk, meaning that this has the highest number of “safe” jobs of all sectors.

Care work remains the fastest-growing occupation and experts agree that robots won’t have the skills and qualities to look after people properly. They will, however, be getting involved. Care homes near the University of Lincoln have tested robot assistants that monitor residents round the clock, giving an extra layer of supervision. In Japan “robears” have helped residents to stand up or lifted them from bed into wheelchairs, sparing workers’ backs.

The biggest technology companies haven’t employed that many people but those in tech roles across different sectors are extremely well placed. We will need workers to make and maintain all those new robots and artificial intelligence systems. In terms of IT, employers put digital skills at the top of their list of requirements, ahead of management skills — and the threat from cyberattacks means that security will be a growth industry.

Creative industries
Technology can’t replicate the human creativity needed in architecture, advertising and graphic design, although it can cut the amount of “grunt work” needed.

Nigel Gwilliam, of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, said: “Many aspects of advertising are already technology-dependent and would actually benefit from further automation. In many respects we have too much data, too much media and too many options for people to handle on their own. As well as copywriters, we now employ data scientists.”

This is the safest sector. The country will need lots of well-educated people to fill higher-level roles, economists forecast, and no one believes robots can take the place of teachers and lecturers, even if automated online courses can supplement personalised tuition. However, no one noticed when a robot replaced a teaching assistant at one US university this year and answered students’ questions.

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Job vacancies increase as staff shortages lift pay

The jobs market has “ended the year on a high”, with employment and wages strengthening despite fears of a post-Brexit slowdown, according to a key survey.

Companies increased their permanent staff headcount in November at the fastest pace since February and starting salaries rose to a six-month high, according to a monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and Markit.

The number of job vacancies also edged higher as the survey found that fewer people were available to fill the roles being created, suggesting that companies may have to increase pay offers to compete for staff.

The findings, which are more timely than official data but not as comprehensive, defy predictions of a pick-up in unemployment and a hit to wages that underpinned forecasts for an economic slowdown by the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the confederation, which represents the UK’s recruitment industry, said: “The jobs market is ending the year on a high, with appointments and vacancies at levels not seen since February. In all parts of the UK, recruiters are reporting increasing demand, so clearly businesses continue to seek growth in their workforces.”

The labour market has shown little sign of a slump since the Brexit vote. Employment is at a record high and unemployment at an 11-year low at 4.8 per cent. However, the official data has pointed to a slowing in recruitment in recent months.

Mr Green said that the main concern for 2017 appeared to be “an increasing skills shortage”, which typically would suggest that pay would rise.

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Downtown Recruitment celebrates 30 years in business!!

Downtown Recruitment is celebrating 30 years in business in Thame, Oxfordshire. In November 1986 Suzanne Young started the business. She saw a gap in the market in the local Thame and surrounding area and was confident she could fill it. This proved to be the case and Downtown quickly became the leading Thame recruitment agency. Suzanne’s son Steve Young joined the business in February 1997 and has been running the company successfully for over 15 years.

Downtown Recruitment is proud to have retained many of its employees. The three current recruitment consultants have a combined service of almost 40 years with the company.

Over the last 30 years, the recruitment industry has seen many changes and has grown rapidly. When Suzanne originally started the business everything was record card based. This was eventually replaced by a database and then specialist recruitment software to help in all areas of the recruitment process. The original local newspaper advertising has now been taken online through the many online jobs boards. Downtown Recruitment still has a large database of locally sourced candidates that contact the company whenever they are looking for a new job.

Over the years, the company has dealt with numerous local businesses and helped to place over 3000 people into permanent roles and around 5000 people into temporary work placements, helping to put more than £60 million into the local economy.

The local employment market has been strong since 2011 (after the last financial crisis) and unemployment levels in the local area are currently around 0.4% compared to the national level of 4.8% in November 2016.

Due to Thame’s proximity to London, many people commute to work. However, there is a strong local employment market. This has led to a skills shortage in some sectors. Due to Thame’s ever increasing popularity as a market town, the population has been growing. This is mainly due to the many new homes that have been built in recent years and many more that are currently under construction, bringing in more potential employees to the local area. In addition, there has been a steady stream of new business units being built in Thame, Long Crendon and other parts of the local area, bringing in more local businesses and helping to stimulate the strong local economy even further.

Managing Director Steve Young commented:”Downtown Recruitment looks forward to continuing to support the local economy through our continued business success and to working with many local companies. We also look forward to finding interesting roles for new job candidates and the returning candidates that we have previously found work for.”

Downtown Recruitment website: https://www.dtrc.co. uk
For further comment, call Steve Young on: 01844 212666.

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New blow for workers who are made redundant

The prospect of a redundancy payment may be the only silver lining in losing your job, but HMRC is poised to take more of your payout under another stealth tax hidden in last week’s autumn statement.

All payments made in lieu of notice will be subject to tax and national insurance, meaning that the taxman will grab up to a third of your money because of a reworking of already complex rules.

“The impact of the change is going to be felt mostly by lower-paid employees. Ironically, employees who receive more generous termination packages will see a far less drastic reduction in their take-home pay. Workers receiving a payout of £30,000 are going to feel the pinch proportionately more than a top executive getting £100,000,” says Mark Groom, a partner at Deloitte, the accountant.

At present, payments in lieu of notice are subject to tax and national insurance only if the worker is contractually entitled to a golden goodbye lump sum. If there is no such entitlement, the first £30,000 is free of both. Income tax, but not national insurance, is charged on payouts over £30,000. The change will take effect in April 2018. From then, someone who gets a £30,000 payment in lieu of notice, a £5,000 redundancy payment and £2,000 in holiday pay will receive 31 per cent less than they would get today. As a result of the deduction of income tax and national insurance, they will be left with £23,560, down from £34,160.

The taxman will add the payment to your earnings for the year, meaning that some employees will be pushed into higher tax brackets. Income tax will be levied at the highest rate paid by the worker. National insurance will be charged at 12 per cent (the rate on earnings up to £45,000) or 2 per cent (the rate charged thereafter).

Often workers facing dismissal are asked to leave immediately and given a pay-off. Many are obliged to go on “gardening leave”, so that they cannot take up employment elsewhere for months. “A lot of people rely on these payments because they are part of the bargain you make with the employer. If it all goes pear-shaped, at least you will get a pay-off,” says Mr Groom.

The new system extends the reach of national insurance. The law has traditionally made this division between contractual and non-contractual payments, but “HMRC has never liked this distinction, because it says termination payments represent a period of work that you would you have been taxed on,” explains Mr Groom.

The extra income the Treasury will earn from national insurance in the next five years is £38bn; more than from VAT
The change is part of the creeping growth of national insurance that will soon lead it to overtake VAT as the Treasury’s second-largest source of revenue, behind income tax. The tax grab from national insurance is set to rise £38 billion in the next five years, according to forecasts. By contrast, the income tax take will rise £33 billion. The Times revealed last week that annual national insurance contri-butions will increase by £240 for people earning over £43,000, in another stealth tax not mentioned in the chancellor’s speech last week.

Tina Riches, the head of national tax at Smith & Williamson, believes national insurance is in danger of becoming a “gigantic stealth tax”. “The public needs to be more aware that it is a significant amount that they are paying. A lot of people will be paying more in national insurance than income tax,” she warns.

Is any part of my payment safe?
Yes. Typically your termination payout will be made up of different elements. Statutory pay, which the government says you must be given, or redundancy pay that is not a payment in lieu of notice, will still be non-taxable for the first £30,000. You do not have to pay national insurance on any of it.

What about employers?
They are going to have to fork out national insurance contributions at 13.8 per cent of any redundancy payments they make over £30,000. “Some employers considering job cuts may bring these forward rather than wait until costs increase after April 5, 2018,” says Mr Groom.

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National Minimum Wage change – 1st October 2016

Hello world!

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Easier to get a job in Manchester than London?

It is easier to get a job in Manchester than in London, according to a survey that explodes the myth that the nation’s capital is sucking the lifeblood out of the economy beyond the M25 corridor.

Data from the recruitment website Adzuna also shows a 2.7 per cent drop in vacancies in August to 1.23 million after the June 23 vote for Britain to leave the European Union, as caution surrounding Brexit and summer seasonality prompted a drop in hiring.

Despite this, the survey revealed an increase in advertised salaries for the first time in five months in August, reaching £32,784, up 0.3 per cent from July. It also found that the employment rate, at 74.5 per cent, hit a joint record high since comparable records started in 1971, thanks to growing self-employment and the rise of the gig economy.

Doug Monro, co-founder of Adzuna, said that the drop in vacancies was unlikely to represent a long-term lull. “Hiring has certainly not ground to a half as many predicted after Brexit,” he said.

However, he warned about reading too much into the small rise in starting salaries, as pay was still far below pre-recession levels and inflation was expected to rise.

The findings, based on job ads from more than 500 websites, come amid much conflicting data about the impact of Brexit. Although the CBI’s latest survey of the financial services sector found that optimism remained low, a poll of chief executives by KPMG found that nearly three quarters were “confident” about their company’s growth prospects.

The headline figures from the Adzuna survey hide huge regional variation in competition for jobs, ranging from 8.39 jobseekers per vacancy in Northern Ireland to just 0.25 in the southeast.

However, London does not make it into the top ten best cities to get hired. That list is headed by Cambridge, where a high number of unfilled positions means that there are only 0.06 jobseekers per vacancy. Next are Guildford (0.09), Oxford (0.12), Reading (0.14) and Winchester (1.18).

London, where there were 0.49 jobseekers per vacancy last month, was beaten by a host of southern cities, but also by Manchester, where the number was only 0.23. The worst city for getting hired was Belfast, where there were 5.42 people chasing every vacancy.

The survey also indicates that not all sectors have suffered a summer slowdown. The number of advertised vacancies in consultancy, at 12,441, was up 5 per cent from July and up 10 per cent from last year as companies seek highly skilled experts, without having to take on permanent employees.

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REC Jobs Outlook: Confidence plummets

Business confidence has deteriorated significantly since the EU referendum, but employers say they need to hire more staff to meet demand, according to the latest Jobs Outlook survey.

A third (34 per cent) of employers surveyed in the three months to August say they have no capacity to take on more work without hiring more staff, while 43 per cent say they have only ‘a little’ spare capacity and would need to grow their workforce in order to meet an increase in demand.

More than a fifth (22 per cent) of businesses plan to take on more permanent staff in the next three months. Only 4 per cent expect to decrease their permanent workforce in the same period.

The survey of 602 employers also reveals:

  • A quarter (25 per cent) plan to take on more permanent staff in the medium term (4-12 months)
  • Permanent and temporary vacancies in engineering and tech, construction, and health and social care are particularly difficult to fill due to a shortage of suitable candidates

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of public sector employers have made redundancies in the last year, compared to 16 per cent of private sector employers.

Comment from Steve Young (Sept 2016) – We have found the demand for both temporary and permanent staff in the local Thame area to be quite strong for the whole of this year. Demand for temporary staff has dropped slightly in September but permanent vacacancies are still quite strong.

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Contact with staff during sick leave

There’s often a misconception that contacting employees when they’re on sickness absence could be construed as a form of harassment – but an appropriate level of contact is actually a necessary element to a good absence management policy. Here’s our guidance on keeping on top of the issue in the right way.

Striking the right balance is key when it comes to keeping in touch with absent employees: it’s fine to contact them at various stages of the sickness period to see how their recovery is progressing, but excessive contact could feel intimidating. Your sickness absence policy should state that this contact will take place in order to manage employee’s expectations should they take time off for ill health.

Frequency of contact

Although your policy may require an employee to phone in every day for the first week of sickness, once this period has passed, they will need to obtain a sick note from their GP – at this stage, daily call-ins shouldn’t be necessary.

For sick leave that extends beyond this, once a week is generally an acceptable frequency for contact, but of course every situation must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

How to approach contact

When you need to contact an absent employee during their absence, first consider what you’re going to discuss during your call.

It’s a good idea to avoid ‘interrogatory’ conversation and to avoid repeating questions which have already been discussed previously so that the employee doesn’t feel unsettled or worried about their position.

Here are some pointers on what you should discuss:

  • How they’re currently feeling
  • What measures they’re taking to get better
  • Whether any improvement has been seen
  • If there are any reasonable adjustments you could implement which would allow them to return to work sooner – along with notifying them of when these adjustments will be completed.

Gathering this information will help you to prepare for the employee’s return. For example, if any adjustments are required, you can make sure this is completed in a timely fashion – plus it also gives you the ability to inform staff covering the absentee’s workload when they’re coming back to work.

If no adjustments can be made, then at least the employee may be able to let you know if their period of sick leave is nearing its end and when they intend to return to work.

Should a referral to occupational health be required, you should discuss this with the employee, and appropriate letters should be sent to gain their consent to a referral.

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UK jobless total falls to 1.64 million

The UK unemployment total fell by 52,000 to 1.64 million between April and June, official figures indicate.

The UK’s unemployment rate remained at 4.9%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

According to the ONS, the number of people on the claimant count in July, the first month since the Brexit vote, was 763,600, down 8,600 from June.

Wages excluding bonuses rose 2.3% in the three months to June compared with a year earlier, the ONS said.

Including bonuses, earnings growth was 2.4%.

“The labour market continued on a strong trend in the second quarter of 2016, with a new record employment rate,” said ONS statistician David Freeman.

“However, little of today’s data cover the period since the result of the EU referendum became known, with only claimant count and vacancies going beyond June – to July for the former and to May-July for the latter,” he added.

The jobless total is now at its lowest for eight years, while the unemployment rate is at its lowest since the summer of 2005, according to the ONS figures.

The employment rate reached a record high of 74.5%, with 31.8 million people in work in the three months to June – 172,000 more than the previous quarter.

Brexit ‘labour market toll’

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said that the UK economy showed “impressive resilience in the run-up to the EU referendum and the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave”.

However, he warned: “It is premature to draw any firm conclusions from this… It remains likely that softening economic activity and heightened uncertainty will take a toll on the labour market over the coming months.”

Hargreaves Lansdown economist Ben Brettell said that while forward-looking surveys to gauge business confidence had suggested the Brexit vote had delivered a shock, “surveys are driven by sentiment, and can therefore overreact”.

“The dramatic fall in confidence may not ultimately be borne out by activity, and today’s claimant count number is a tentative sign that things might not turn out as bad as many predicted,” he said.

Anna Leach, head of economic analysis and surveys at employers’ organisation the CBI, said that before the Brexit vote, “the UK’s jobs market remained in rude health, though vacancies have continued to tick down since the beginning of the year.”

She said the Bank of England had been right “to act swiftly to shore up confidence and keep money flowing through the economy” by taking steps such as lowering interest rates.

She called on the government to “make ambitious decisions in the Autumn Statement that will secure the UK’s economic future as changes to trade, regulation and access to skills loom on the horizon”.

Suren Thiru of the British Chambers of Commerce said: “Labour market indicators tend to lag behind the wider economy, so it is likely to be some time before the full post-referendum employment picture emerges.

“However, more needs to be done to boost business confidence, so that firms can continue to grow and recruit.”

Source – BBC

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Fathers too nervous to ask boss for parental leave?

Only a fraction of fathers have taken advantage of shared parental leave rules and taken extended time off work to care for a new baby, according to the first figures on take up.

Records held by Revenue & Customs showed that only 3,000 parents took up the offer in the first three months of this year. Although it was introduced in April 2015, this is the first time that the figures have been separated out from other forms of parental leave.

It compares with 52,000 fathers who took paternity leave last year and 155,000 mothers. More than 650,000 babies are born in the UK each year, suggesting that the vast majority of fathers would use holiday entitlement or take no time off at all after the birth of a child.

Shared parental leave allows parents to divide up a year of leave between them, often with the mother having time off first and then the father when the baby is six or nine months old.

The figures were compiled by the legal firm EMW. Lawyers said that the reasons for not taking up shared parental leave were often financial, or bound up with job insecurity, with men thinking they would be seen as dispensable or uncommitted if they took months off to be with a baby.

Jon Taylor, principal at EMW, said that hundreds of thousands of families could be missing out by not embracing the new system.

“Many new parents are still unaware of their new rights or are unclear about how the system will work in practice. Many of the old concerns which have long acted as a disincentive to taking extended maternity or paternity leaves still remain,” he said.

New parents were acutely aware that even a temporary fall in income could be a struggle at such an expensive time, he said.

“Uncertainty over the impact time off will have on individual’s careers also looms large. Fathers in particular may still be concerned over the perceived stigma attached to asking for greater flexibility to take a greater role in their child’s care, in case they appear to be less ambitious or committed as a consequence. However, employers have an obligation to accommodate eligible requests in the same way for fathers as they do for mothers.”

Tom Beardshaw, paternity specialist with Executive Coaching Consultancy, said that the main reason why men were not embracing the scheme lay in its format. “At present men can only take shared parental leave if their partner loses it from her own allocation, and why would any new mother want to do this?” he said.

Mr Beardshaw said that it was poorly designed and “use it or lose it” paternity leave would be more successful.

“We know from successful international models that when men and women are given the same entitlement to parental leave, they take it up in large numbers.”

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