Over the last 5-10 years there have been a series of major studies seeking to establish the likely impact of automation and artificial intelligence on work, jobs and occupations1. These studies have generally used existing standard occupational classifications, sometimes linked to work content (task data)2 and have grouped occupations by a series of general characteristics3. These analyses have focused on work content and occupations, rather than the occupation holders themselves. Without knowledge of the occupation holder’s capacity and capability it is very difficult to really assess the likely levels of displacement and how the labour market will adjust.

Labour markets the world over have had to rapidly adjust many times over, driven by major changes in technology (a constant theme since the beginning of the industrial revolution)4, tortunes of businesses resulting in large scale redundancies5 and, of course, during periods of mass conflict between nations (bringing with it command economies)6. Collectively these drivers of major dislocation have been traumatic to many people. But when planned, managed and supported, significant changes have been successfully managed for most people impacted7. It is also evident that some people managed the enforced adjustment better than others, and some were better managed than others8.

It should be possible to identify several factors specific to the occupation, the person (occupation holder) and the location, to bring some insight into how adjustment to automation will be handled. Below are listed potential factors which might encourage and promote adaptability, and so lessen the personal impact of occupation changes brought about by automation and AI.

Factors impacting the capacity of an individual to adjust to rapid occupation changes

Factors associated with the occupation

Entry occupation9 Does the current occupation held normally used as an entry recruitment post from which holders are then developed and promoted further?
Progression opportunities10 Is there a series of clear distinct progression steps ahead of the current role?
Technical skills11 What is the complete technical skill set held by fully proficient role holder?
Non-technical skills12 Does the role require a series of non-technical skills which are easily transferable?
Nature of the role13 Where is the role located in the organisation? Is an isolated one or one which requires a high level of co-ordination with other roles, functions, or processes? Is it a role which sits at the internal boundary between other functions or processes? Is it a role which has a high level of external focus and external contacts? Does the role expose the whole to the development of a whole entity perspective? Does the role require rotation with other roles? Or, temporary leadership due to shift or isolated working? Does the role require a level of focus on improvement activity?

Factors associated with the occupation holder

Numbers of jobs held (experience)14 How many roles has the individual held and mastered?
Numbers of jobs held (current – paid)15 Does the individual hold other paid roles?
Number of jobs held (current – non-paid)16 Does the individual hold any unpaid roles?
Education and training activity (for current role)17 What level of education and training has been undertaken in the last 12-24 months?
Education and training activity (previous roles)18 What level of education and training has been undertaken in previous roles? Have any qualifications been gained?
Education and training activity (self-initiated)19 Is the individual engaged in any form of personal development outside of their employment?
Learning skills ability20 What range of learning skills has the individual developed to-date?
Family support21 What level of support is available from the immediate and extended family?
Family businesses22 Is the immediate or extended family involved in running their own business?
Personal disposition23 Where does the individual sit on the spectrum of adaptability and innovativeness?

Factors associated with the location of the occupation

Labour market buoyancy24 What is the balance of occupations and sectors growing versus those not growing locally?
Education and training infrastructure25 What is the range and responsiveness of the local education and training providers?
Transport and communications infrastructure26 Does the local infrastructure support easy local mobility and communications?


One of the challenges to those working in occupation analysis in support of active labour market policies is to devise a series of reliable indicators which helps in assessing those individuals who will be most impacted by the changes in occupation content and work requirements, and how best to support and sustain continuous and meaningful employment.


  1. McKinsey Global Institute (2017) A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity. 148 pages; McKinsey Global Institute (2017) Jobs lost, Jobs gained: Workforce Transition in a time of Automation. 160 pages; McKinsey Global Institute (2018) Skill shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce. 84 pages. Also see Gownder, J. P. et al (2017) The Future of Jobs, 2027: Working side by side with robots. Forrester Research which estimates 24.7 million workers will be displaced and 14.9 million jobs will be created in the USA. This is a marked difference from some estimates which put the displacement level at 69 million.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Landes, D.S. (1969) The Unbound Prometheus. Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge University Press. 566 pages
  5. Sulek, A. (2007) “The Marienthal 1931/1932 study and contemporary studies on unemployment in Poland”, Polish Sociological Review, 157, 3-25
  6. Harrison, M. (1988) “Resource mobilization for World War II: the USA, UK, USSR and Germany, 1938-1945”, Economic History Review, 41 (2), 171-192.
  7. Cross, M. (1982) “Making a new career during the recession”, Department of Employment Gazette, 90 (6); Cross, M. (1981) “Fostering new enterprise in the North”, Department of Employment Gazette, 89 (5); Cross, M. and Gibb, A. (1983) Research into the Entrepreneurial Base of Large Firms in the Northern Region. SSRC End of Grant Report. Grant No. 6241/2 and Cross, M.; Gibb, A. and Slater, B. (1985) A Study of Managerial Resettlement. MSC Sheffield; Cross, M. (1981) Positive Employment Contraction: Some examples from the North East. Paper presented to the Regional Studies Association, University of Durham.
  8. Rosenthal, L. (1989) “Unemployment incidence following redundancy: the value of longitudinal approaches”, The Sociological Review, 37, 187-213.
  9. Department for Education (2018) T Level Action Plan. 47 pages; see the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education with carries 15 occupational maps we developed for the DfE and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation; the Work Readiness Credential Profile is also useful here as t covers 10 sets of skill areas needed for work entry: acquire and use information; use technology; use systems; work with others; integrity; know how to learn; responsibility; allocate resources; solve problems; and, self-management. Plus see: Thompson, S.; Colebrook, C. and Hatfield, I. (2016) Jobs and Skills in London. Building a more responsive skills systems in the capital. IPPR London. 46 pages. In this work we see the relatively high level of mid-skill job openings which require prior vocational qualifications.
  10. Thompson, S. and Hatfield, I. (2015) Employee Progression in European Labour Markets. IPPR London 36 pages. See Figure 2.1, Page 7 ‘Rate of occupational progression (%) in EU countries, 2004-2011”.
  11. When you look at an occupation with the O*NET database the complete range of requirements of the occupation is laid out e.g. for an accountant there 17 tasks, 28 technological skills, 7 knowledge elements, 17 skills, 18 abilities and 23 work activities. While only a small proportion of the capacities will be used at any one time, it means the occupation holder will also possess many other capabilities.
  12. ibid
  13. Parker, S. K. (1998) “Enhancing role breadth self-efficiency: the roles of job enrichment and other organisational interventions”, Journal of Applied Psychology, 83 (6), 835-852.
  14. Generally, those in employment have an average tenure of 4-5 years and will have had 10 jobs before they are 40, and 12-15 over a full employment career. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Tenure in 2018
  15. Heinech, G. (2003) New estimates of multiple jobholding in the UK. Department of Economics, University of Bamberg, Germany. 18 pages. Estimates that 10% of the UK labour force hold more than one job. In Germany the comparable figure is 6-9% and in the US it is 4.9% (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this is regarded as being an under-estimate as it does not build in the self-employed in any effective way).
  16. NCVO (2019) Civil Society Almanac 2019. Data, trends and insights. NCVO. About 20% of all economically active adults do volunteering on a regular (monthly) basis, and this rises to 29% for those not economically active (retired).
  17. Thompson and Hatfield (2015) Op. Cit. See Figure 2.8 Proportion of 25-64-year olds participating in lifelong learning in European countries, 2013 which shows the UK runs at 16% while Denmark runs at 32%. This is based on the Eurostat 2014 Education and Training Database.
  18. ibid.
  19. Long, R. (2009) Adult Education. SN/SP/4941. House of Commons Library. 15 pages.
  20. Desmedt, E. and Valcke, M. (2004) “Mapping learning styles jungle: an overview of the literature based on citation analysis”, Education Psychology, 24 (4), 445-464; Novak, J.D. (2010) “Learning, creating and using knowledge: concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and corporation”, Journal of eLearning and Knowledge Society, 6 (3), 21-30; there are seven main learning styles – visual (spatial), aural (auditory-musical), verbal (linguistic), physical (kinaesthetic), logical (mathematical), social (interpersonal), and solitary (intrapersonal).
  21. Edwards, R., Franklin, J. and Holland, J. (2003) Families and Social Capital: Exploring the Issues. Families and Social Capital ESRC Research Group, South Bank University, London. 35 pages.
  22. Institute for Family Business (2019) The State of the Nation: The UK Family Business Sector 2018-19. 60 pages. There are 4.8 million family businesses in the UK which employ 13.4 million people – this is split into 121,000 small business (10-49) and 18,000 medium-to-large business.
  23. Toye, J. (1980) Training for Versatility. ITRU Publication TR12. ITRU Cambridge. 50 pages. See, the Versatility Disposition Questionnaire, page 33
  24. Onward – Human Capital report; Working across the O*NET database, it identifies 434 occupations in its ‘bright outlook’ category: 20 which are high growth (10% growth per year) and numerous job openings (in excess of 100,000 over the 2016-2026 period); 45 have numerous job openings; and, 369 are rapid growth. This is over 40% of all occupations in the O*NET database.
  25. UKTI (2014) UK Education and Training Capability: An Overview. UKTI Education. 36 pages
  26. Rhodes, C. (2018) Infrastructure policies and investment. Briefing Paper, No. 6594. House of Commons Library. 23 pages; Solvell, O., Ketels, C. and Lindqvist, G. (2009) The European Cluster Observatory. EU Cluster Mapping and Strengthening Clusters in Europe. Europe INNOVA Paper No 12. 40 pages.