BT to shed up to 55,000 jobs by end of decade as robots take over

UP to 55,000 jobs could go from BT by the end of the decade as AI powered robots are employed to do customer service and the telecom giant completes its full-fibre internet network.

At the moment BT employs 130,000 and has been, in the words of CEO Philip Jansen, “building like fury” its ultra-fast broadband matrix.

Once that is done, a new, “leaner, high-tech” company will need far fewer people to service the network.

While no jobs are directly on the line today, BT is trying to prepare workers and the market for where it thinks the business will be in seven or eight years time.

In a results statement today the company guided for a reduction in the “labour resource” from 130,000 to between 75,000 and 90,000.

Unions are likely to begin fighting for those jobs immediately. They are calling for an urgent meeting with Jansen.

For the year to March, BT made revenue of £20.6 billion, up 1%. Profits slipped 12% to £1.7 billion, but the group is growing for the first time in six years.

On the job losses, Jansen told the Standard: “We will have a company that has brighter prospects, but which is much leaner. If we do it carefully we can treat people properly, reskill and retrain them.”

BT has been cutting around 5,000 jobs a year already and loses 10% of staff through natural attrition anyway.

On AI he said: “It is good for people this, good for customers. This new tech is going to be massive, it is as big as the internet, as big as mobile phones. BT can’t be stuck in the past, it needs to be in the future.”

AI will offer new jobs for people, “we just don’t know what,” he added.

Jansen’s own future is the subject of intense City speculation. It is unlikely he will still be in place in five years time, but headhunters say he is not leaving any time soon.

Jansen was paid £3.5 million last year. He was already hugely wealthy from his earlier career in private equity.

Prospect, the union, is concerned about the cuts.

John Ferrett, Prospect National Secretary, said: “Prospect are deeply concerned by the scale of these cuts. Announcing such a huge reduction in this way will be very unsettling for workers who did so much to keep the country connected during the pandemic.”

He added: “As a union we want to see the details behind this announcement in order to understand how it will impact upon members and have demanded an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive.”

BT’s point is that once the full-fibre network is running it won’t need servicing by staff on the streets in vans -- it will be done by software.

BT shares fell 12p to 136p.

Dan Ridsdale at Edison Group said: “ The 8% fall today likely reflects a combination of factors, with the weak cash flow performance, risk of disruption from job cuts and concerns over consumers cutting broadband to save costs.”