People should not fear robots taking over their boring and repetitive work when future jobs will be much more creative, Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, will claim on Thursday.
Rudd, who has not ruled out joining the contest to replace Theresa May as prime minister, accused those who wanted to preserve all traditional jobs of seeking to “hark back to dark satanic mills”.
Rudd will make the case for embracing workplace automation at a speech in London, fuelling leadership speculation by setting out a Conservative vision of “the 21st-century worker”.
Labour said Rudd’s vision failed to acknowledge how many people are trapped in insecure, low-paid jobs with no alternatives amid the shift away from permanent employment.
Rudd will set out some of her personal work history as part of a trading team at JP Morgan investment bank before she switched to become a politician, saying she understood how change could be daunting.
She will say automation is primarily a threat to boring work and the government will help people change direction.
“Automation is driving the decline of banal and repetitive tasks,” she will say. “So the jobs of the future are increasingly likely to be those that need human sensibilities: with personal relationships, qualitative judgment and creativity coming to the fore.
“And there is a clear role for government to help people take advantage of these changes, and to help businesses create high-quality jobs.”
She will say there will be “challenges” as jobs change, but will point to the Industrial Revolution as an example of how blacksmith jobs were needed less and railway jobs were needed more.
“I understand that the certainty of the old industries, of guaranteed jobs for life, offer an attractive nostalgia. But harking back to the dark satanic mills of the past is not the solution,” she will say, accusing Labour of failing to understand the changing workforce.
“History shows that we can be positive. This is not the first Industrial Revolution; all the evidence from the past is that automation and technology can be hugely disruptive, but the role of labour evolves – it is not obliterated.
“No one looks back now and thinks: I wish the Luddites had won.”
She will announce a project where jobcentre coaches help people think about career progression, not just new jobs.
Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said Rudd’s speech ignores the reality that so many people were trapped in poverty as a result of low paid, insecure work.
“Employment support under this government is based around sanctions,” said Greenwood. “That puts many people at risk of destitution instead of helping them find work that lasts and that lifts them out of poverty.
“Labour will end the cruel sanctions regime, ensure that people receive personalised employment support and invest in skills and training to create the decent jobs that people need.”