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26 June 2019
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Analysis: The shift from brawn to brains

Robotic cleaners
Credit: Corbis

18 September2015 | Herpreet Grewal


Facilities managers’ jobs have a 57 per cent of becoming automated, according to research.

A study by Deloitte, using figures on UK job numbers and average wages from the Office for National Statistics and research by Oxford University, shows that the growth of jobs at low risk of automation outpaces the loss of jobs at high risk. 

It observes that 3.5 million low-risk jobs were created since 2001, with 800,000 high-risk jobs lost.

Property, housing and estate managers are not destined to be automated, according to the research and are ranked at 233rd of 366 jobs – only 25 per cent likely to be automated. A waste disposal and environmental services manager is also around 25 per cent likely to be automated. 

Cleaners, on the other hand, are ranked 156th of 366. The likelihood of automation was “too close to call” at a 57 per cent likelihood. Hospital porter and building and civil engineering technician fall into a similar category. The job of telephonist is at a 96.5 per cent risk of automation, says the study, with receptionist at a 95.6 per cent chance of automation. A cleaning and housekeeping manager and supervisor is at a 94.4 per cent chance of automation, with a housekeeper at a likelihood of 94.4 per cent. A security guard faces an 89.3 per cent probability of being automated. 

Where empathy scores

The probability of an office manager’s job being automated is rated “quite unlikely” – it comes 343rd in the list of 366.

The study reckons social workers, nurses, therapists and psychologists are among the least likely occupations to be taken over by technology because assisting and caring for others, which involves empathy, is a crucial part of the job.

Additionally, occupations involving tasks that require a high degree of social intelligence and negotiating skills, like managerial positions, are considerably less at risk from machines.

These results show that while the lower-end facilities management jobs face a chance of being automated, the more sophisticated roles are less likely to be. The research touches upon previous discussions of the sector being automated. In 2014 Chris Kane, CEO of BBC Commercial Projects, went as far to say: “As things like robotics take over, the [FM] industry will shrink.”

At the time Marie Puybaraud, director of global workplace innovation at Johnson Controls, responded by saying that while the digitisation of the industry was inevitable, she added: “I don’t think the industry is to ready to hear that it won’t survive in the long term.”

The research presents a mixed picture for FM, but also demonstrates that automation would not obliterate the profession completely. 

Previous research has also suggested that robotics and artificial intelligence could permeate industries such as customer services and maintenance over the next decade. Last year research by the American Pew Research Centre stated just this. It focused on experts’ views about advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, and their impact on jobs and employment. The report stated that many experts believe advances in AI and robotics will pervade nearly every aspect of daily life by the year 2025, “from distant manufacturing processes to the most mundane household activities”.

Using the information from the Oxford University study, Deloitte has concluded that every region and nation of the UK has benefited from technology. In every part of the UK, routine jobs at high risk of automation have declined, but have been more than made up for by the creation of lower-risk, non-routine jobs.

Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice-chairman of Deloitte, said: “Our work shows the automation of jobs – and a shift from brawn to brains – is well under way in every nation and region of the UK. But we appear to be benefiting from this, not losing out. But we cannot be complacent. Business, educators and government must work together to ensure young people enter the workforce with the skills suited to the jobs of tomorrow and those already in work are able to re-skill during their careers.”


The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To automation. Data supplied by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, from Oxford University’s Martin School.

Figures on UK job numbers and average wages from the Office for National Statistics and Deloitte UK.