Wakefield facing 'bumpy' future in tackling job losses to robots

Robots are predicted to take nearly a third of Wakefield's jobs by 2030/Photo by Martin Bostock Photography
Robots are predicted to take nearly a third of Wakefield's jobs by 2030/Photo by Martin Bostock Photography

Wakefield faces a "bumpy" road ahead in tackling the prospect of job losses linked to robots, a council officer has said.

The district could lose 45,000 jobs - nearly a third of its entire workforce - by 2030, a report by a respected think tank predicted last year.

Only Mansfield and Sunderland are expected to lose more of their workforce to machines than Wakefield.

Only Mansfield and Sunderland are expected to lose more of their workforce to machines than Wakefield.

The rise of automation and robotics is expected to hit employment in warehouses and the logistics industry particularly hard, with only Mansfield and Sunderland expected to lose a bigger proportion of its workforces than Wakefield.

The issue was addressed at a meeting on Monday by one of the council's economic advisers, Joseph Quinn.

Mr Quinn told a meeting of scrutiny committee chairs that it would be "pointless" to fight against the growing tide of technology, and outlined the council's plan to help businesses and workers adjust to the changing climate.

He said: "It’s going to be a bumpy road. The challenge for the council will be to make sure it’s not as bumpy as it could be.

"We’ve lost around 4,000 jobs in retail in Wakefield over the last four or five years.

"Every time you use a self-service machine in a supermarket, that’s automation in action.

"But the area of particular concern is logistics and in warehouses.

“There’s no point us trying to prevent automation from happening, because we can’t.

"Our plan is to help our business towards adapting to it, and then what we’re saying in return, is we want access to your workforce so that we can train them.

"It’s a challenge across the world really, but particularly in the north of England."

Council leader Peter Box said last summer that he would pursue a "unique" devolution deal for Wakefield from the government, specifically to tackle the rise of robotics and the potential impact on the area.

Councillor Richard Forster suggested on Monday that Wakefield could address the problem by ensuring workers were given skills to maintain the robots.

He said: "I think we need to be in a position where we’ve got a trained workforce, who can repair these artificial machines.

"That would be better than having to bring people in from the outside to do it."

The report last year, written by the Centre for Cities think tank, said that the north and midlands were "more exposed" to job losses to technology than the south.

It forecast that Yorkshire as a whole could lose around 400,000 vacancies during the next 12 years.