Report highlights impact of labour market changes in 2010s

A new report from the RSA highlights labour market changes in the last decade and looks at possible trends for the future, including which jobs might become more popular.

woman coding at laptop


Cashiers, bank clerks and hairdressers have been among the hardest hit by labour market shifts in the 2010s while van drivers, software programmers and care workers have enjoyed the biggest jobs growth, according to new analysis from the RSA Future Work Centre.

The report says the ageing society, public sector austerity and the rise of e-commerce and its impact on traditional high streets have had a big impact on the labour market, particularly on jobs dominated by women.

While the fastest growing professions by net employment change were computer and software programmers, general admin, finance managers and directors, van drivers and marketing directors, the fastest shrinking ones included were national government administrators, retail cashiers and check-out operators, bank and post office clerks, sales and retail assistants and personal assistants.

High street closures have led to more than 289,000 traditional roles being lost, 81% of which were held by women, says the report. This includes 75,000 retail cashiers (67,000 women); 65,000 post office and banking clerks (41,000 women); 64,000 sales assistants (77,000 losses from women while men increased by 13,000); 34,000 hairdressers and barbers (28,000 women), 27,000 shelf fillers (12,000 women) and 23,000 launderers (11,000 women).

Another report out today says more than 140,000 retail jobs have been lost this year. The analysis by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) predicts things will get worse in 2020, unless the government intervenes, for instance, to reduce high business rates.

In addition to looking at labour market changes this decade, the RSA report looks forward to the next, identifying a number of social, technological and financial trends that could impact jobs, including Brexit, the climate emergency, the ageing society, the pace of technological change, continued dominance of tech giants, the risk of another 2008 style crash and global political turmoil.

It outlines four possible future scenarios, including a ‘Big Tech Economy’ characterised by significant improvements in the quality of products and public services, increased unemployment and economic insecurity and economic power concentrated in a handful of US and Chinese tech behemoths. Jobs which would be popular in this scenario include software developers, digital transformation consultants, tech PRs.

Another scenario is the Precision Economy where technological progress is moderate, with more gig platforms, rating systems becoming pervasive in the workplace and sensors used to measure all aspects of work. Typical jobs in this scenario include behavioural scientists, data analysts and online reputation managers.

A third scenario is the Exodus Economy, which is characterised by an economic slowdown and financial crisis, which keeps the UK in a low-skilled, low-productivity and low-paid rut and could result in disillusion in capitalism and the blossoming of alternative economic models, with cooperatives and mutuals emerging in large numbers to serve peoples’ core economic needs in food, energy and banking. Typical jobs would include food cooperative workers, upcycled clothing designers and community energy managers.

The last scenario is the Empathy Economy where public awareness of the dangers of technology lead tech companies to self-regulate to stem concerns and work hand in hand with external stakeholders to create new products that work on everyone’s terms. In this scenario, automation would take places at a modest scale but be carefully managed in partnership with workers and unions. Money would be directed into education, care and entertainment with a big emphasis on emotional labour. Typical jobs would include digital detox planners, personal PR advisers and social media infometers.

Alan Lockey, head of the RSA Future Work Centre, said:  “Changes in the labour market reflect changes in society, so we can see the impact of public sector austerity, the decline of the high street and the rise of e-commerce reflected in these figures.

“Automation is already here, and its effects are uneven. The carnage on the high street has hollowed-out many jobs traditionally held by women, but areas of growth related to e-commerce, such as van driving, are going more to men. This is having a profound effect on individuals, families and society.

“In the 2020s, technological change will transform the labour market yet further. As more personal data becomes available, we could expect to see professions like behavioural scientists and data analysts rise in the tables in a decade’s time as the ‘precision economy’ develops.

“Even doctors and solicitors could find themselves employed by Google Lawyers and Apple Healthcare.

“We also predict a rise in work focused on relationships – in established fields like education or health and social care, but also new roles such as digital detox gurus helping ordinary people navigate social media in the ‘empathy economy’. This might sound more attractive, but brings with it increased emotional labour – which may end up falling once again mostly on women.”

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