INCREASING use of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace could heighten social inequality and lead to significant job losses, according to a report.

The Boston Consulting Group said that while automation will affect a broad range of jobs, the better-off will be able to retrain into new fields, while those on lower incomes will not have the same opportunities. It points out this was already happening in the UK, where coal, steel, and fishing workers have often been left without sufficient retraining programmes and lack the income to enter a new trade.

Younger employees and those without a degree would also be unable to climb up the employment ladder because of a reduction in the amount of “stepping stone” jobs, such as bookkeepers and paralegals.

Sutton Trust research manager Carl Cullinane said the rise in “soft skills” such as communications, confidence and resilience, would widen the employment gap between rich and poor. He said: “It’s long established that private schools put a lot of effort into making sure their pupils have those sorts of skills. And these will become even more important in a crowded labour market.”

In another report, the Centre for Business and Economic Research, at Ball State University in Indiana, said jobs in the $40,000 (£30,800) salary range were the most likely to be replaced by AI and robots.

Its director Michael Hicks said: “Automation is likely to replace half of all low-skilled jobs… Considerable labour market turbulence is likely in the coming generation.”