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Read the latest news and commentary from our Evidence Hub team.

From 7 May 2024, The North East Evidence Hub is a project of the North East Combined Authority. We may still refer to the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (or "the LEP") in some of our news articles.

Artificial intelligence will change how we work in the North East, but differently to elsewhere

Thomas Athey, Senior Economic Analyst at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), discusses which jobs in the North East are most likely to see their tasks changed by AI

2023 was a big year for Artificial Intelligence development, with large language models such as ChatGPT breaking through to the public for the first time. That AI is going to change the workplace has been predicted for a while. Exactly what this change will look like is a difficult question.

In November the Unit for Future Skills at the DFE published their analysis of which roles are most likely to see their tasks change due to AI. We have now published an additional analysis specifically applying this to the North East.

The headline measure used in the Unit for Future Skills analysis differs from that in many other studies. They measure exposure rather than vulnerability. Jobs with high exposure are likely to see AI built into their workflow, but this could result in either augmentation or automation.

At first glance the headline regional analysis is quite reassuring for the North East. Overall, the region has the lowest AI exposure score in the UK.

A deeper look at the data, however, reveals a more nuanced picture. Firstly, lower exposure does not mean low exposure, and there are still over 280,000 jobs in the North East in the top quarter of most exposed occupations.

The figure rises to over 300,000 if we focus on large language models, suggesting the recent development of applications like ChatGPT have the potential to impact the region more than AI in general.  

The North East has two times the national average proportion of telephone salespersons and call centre operatives for instance, and these are two of the occupations most likely to see their job changed by these new language functionalities.

In addition, the data suggests AI in the North East will be a public sector story more than in other regions. Most of the occupations more concentrated in the North East and with the highest AI exposure scores are typically employed by public organisations. 

This includes professionals across national and local government administration, teaching professionals in both schools and higher education, and managers and administrators in health and social services. It also includes this author who not only works in the public sector but also has a degree in the most exposed subject (Economics). 

It reflects that the North East has a large public sector and small numbers working in the industries where the DFE thinks AI will have the biggest impact such as finance and management consulting.

As we highlighted at Our Economy 2023 low productivity is one of the main reasons for low wages in the North East. The fact we have less people working in these sectors is potentially a cause for concern if AI increases the productivity of knowledge intensive services disproportionally.

The other implication is that the North East must ask itself a different set of questions in relation to AI in the workplace, because AI will be deployed in the public sector more than elsewhere. How can we use AI to improve public services and reduce the workload of teachers and health professionals is a challenge more relevant to the North East. 

The long-term impact of AI is uncertain, so all these predication needs to be taken with caution. It is clear however, that the North East will see change along with the rest of the country, but the focus of the change will be different in the region.

Author Organisation

Thomas Athey

Author Contact

Thomas Athey, Senior Economic Analyst

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