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RSA Future Work Centre: 289,000 high street jobs lost in last decade as new analysis reveals winners and losers of 2010s

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What are the jobs of the future?

  • Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) Future Work Centre analysis reveals which professions have grown and shrunk the most over the last decade.  
  • 289,000 high street jobs lost over the last decade, 81% of which were held by women. 
  • 2020s could see the rise of behavioural scientists, data analysts, online reputation managers, digital detox consultants and upcycled clothes designers.  

 

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, think-tank analysis shows.  

The RSA Future Work Centre found social, economic, political and technological trends over the last decade – including the ageing society, public sector austerity, and the rise of e-commerce and its impact on traditional high streets – have imprinted themselves on the labour market: 

  • The fastest growing professions by net employment change were computer and software programmers (+162,000, or 72% growth), general admin (161,000, or 26%), finance managers and directors (115,000, or 51%), van drivers (102,000, or 54%) and marketing directors (100,000, or 56%). 
  • The fastest shrinking professions by net employment change were national government administrators (-109,000, or –43%), retail cashiers and check-out operators (-75,000, or –32%), bank and post office clerks (-65,000, or –43%), sales and retail assistants (-64,000, or –6%) and personal assistants (-55,000, or –23%).  
  • Women have been especially hard hit by the changes on the high street. More than 289,000 traditional roles have been lost, 81% of which were held by women. 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).  

 

In the 2020s, 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 could all impact on jobs, the RSA warns, modelling four possible ‘futures of work’: 

  • The Big Tech Economy describes a world where most technologies develop at a rapid pace, from self-driving cars to 3D printing. A new machine age delivers significant improvements in the quality of products and public services, with the cost of everyday goods including transport and energy plummeting. However, unemployment and economic insecurity creep upwards, and the spoils of growth are offshored and concentrated in a handful of US and Chinese tech behemoths. The dizzying pace of change leaves workers and unions with little time to respond. Typical jobs: software developers, digital transformation consultants, tech PRs. 
  • The Precision Economy portrays a future of hyper-surveillance. Technological progress is moderate, but a proliferation of sensors allows firms to create value by capturing and analysing more information on objects, people and the environment. Gig platforms take on more prominence and rating systems become pervasive in the workplace. While some lament these trends as invasive, others believe they have ushered in a more meritocratic society where effort is more generously rewarded. A hyper-connected society also leads to wider positive spill overs, with less waste as fewer resources are left idle. Typical jobs: behavioural scientists, data analysts, online reputation managers. 
  • The Exodus Economy is characterised by an economic slowdown. A crash on the scale of 2008 dries up funding for innovation and keeps the UK in a low-skilled, low-productivity and low-paid rut. Faced with another bout of austerity, workers lose faith in the ability of capitalism to improve their lives, and alternative economic models gather interest. Cooperatives and mutuals emerge in large numbers to serve peoples’ core economic needs in food, energy and banking. While some workers struggle on poverty wages, others discover ways to live more self-sufficiently, including by moving away from urban areas. Typical jobs: food cooperative workers, upcycled clothing designers, community energy managers.
  • The Empathy Economy envisages a future of responsible stewardship. Technology advances at a clip, but so too does public awareness of its dangers. Tech companies self-regulate to stem concerns and work hand in hand with external stakeholders to create new products that work on everyone’s terms. Automation takes places at a modest scale but is carefully managed in partnership with workers and unions. Disposable income flows into ‘empathy sectors’ like education, care and entertainment. This trend is broadly welcomed but brings with it a new challenge of emotional labour, where the need to be continuously expressive and available takes its toll. Typical jobs: digital detox planners, personal PR advisers and social media infometers. 

 

The RSA Future Work Centre was set-up following RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor’s gig economy review for then Prime Minister, Theresa May. Matthew Taylor has subsequently retained his role as an advisor to the government on employment issues and good work, and is currently director of labour market enforcement as BEIS.  

 

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.” 

 

Sean Nesbitt, partner and employment law expert at Taylor Wessing, said:  

"Speaking as a lawyer, many of the businesses we advise base their employment policies and offerings on inclusion and the widening of opportunities for their employees. This is especially true for underrepresented parts of the work force. 

"Many employers are working hard to create a more level playing field, meeting their employees' expectations for sustainable employment, more agile working models and greater benefits. There is a very real need for regulation and the regulators to keep up with changes in workplace culture and shifting employee expectations.  

"This is a timely reminder that the UK can be in the vanguard of rethinking how markets and workplaces are balanced for sustainable working practices. Ahead of the rest of the world in thinking about what should be done from a legal perspective, we should pick up the pace on delivering some of the policy aspects suggested." 

ends 

 

Methodology: 

The RSA analysis of changing nature of jobs analysis was conducted using Labour Force Survey data from the UK Data Service (https://ukdataservice.ac.uk). Analysis compares July-Sep quarter between 2011 and 2019. Full data tables are available on request.  

The Four Futures of Work analysis is based on morphological analysis, informed by expert input and advised on by our project partners Arup. The results of this were modelled by the RSA Future Work Centre’s research team to produce four detailed snapshots of what the UK labour market could look like in 2035.  

 
Contact:   

Ash Singleton, Head of Media & Communications, RSA: ash.singleton@rsa.org.uk, 07799 737 970.  

    

Notes:   

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an independent charity which believes in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.    

Through our ideas, research and a 30,000 strong Fellowship, we are a global community of proactive problem solvers, sharing powerful ideas, carrying out cutting-edge research and building networks. We create opportunities for people to collaborate, influence, and demonstrate practical solutions to realise change.   

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control. 

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  • I can understand the thrust of this article, but including 'hairdressers' in the headline of declining jobs without explanation undermines the credibility of the report.  Are hairdressers undermined by the internet? Is this work being exported to China or India? Are robots undertaking this role in place of people?  As we move to a more affluent society and service based economy, one would expect hairdressers and beauty therapists etc to increase. Is it the case that 'hairdressers' and 'barbers' have simply been re-described as 'stylists', 'beauticians', etc; and that more people in this sector of the economy are self-employed now instead of employed?  I haven't noticed a widespread return to the 60s when I was a young man and only visited a barber every couple of years (if that).

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