BT will cut 55,000 jobs while replacing up to a fifth with artificial intelligence

  • Written by Tom Espiner
  • Business Correspondent, BBC News

Telecoms giant BT will cut up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade, mostly in the UK, as it cuts costs.

Up to a fifth of these cuts will come in customer services as employees are replaced by technologies including artificial intelligence.

It includes staff reduction from the current workforce of 130,000 employees and contractors.

“As you get new technologies, you can get big changes,” said CEO Philip Jansen.

He said “generative AI” tools such as ChatGPT — which can write articles, scripts and poems and solve computer markup in a human-like way — “give us confidence that we can go even further.”

Artificial intelligence will make services faster, better and smoother, said Mr Jansen, adding that the changes will not mean customers will “feel like they’re dealing with bots”.

“We’re multi-channel, online, we have 450 stores and that’s not changing at all,” he said.

“There are a lot of opportunities for our customers to engage with the people in BT, and a lot of people to talk to.”

“New technologies lead to new jobs,” Mr Jansen added, although BT said it would have a “much smaller workforce” by the end of 2020.

In addition, newer and more efficient technology, including artificial intelligence, means that fewer people will be needed to serve customers in the future.

UK hit

BT will become “a leaner company with a brighter future,” Mr. Jansen said, with the company planning to cut 40,000 to 55,000 jobs by 2030.

The company has around 80,000 employees in the UK, and that’s where the bulk of the cuts come from. It has about 20,000 employees overseas.

It also has 30,000 contractors, most of whom are overseas. Many of these roles will go.

  • Over 15,000 pieces as BT completes the construction of fiber networks in the UK
  • More than 10,000 because the new UK grids require less maintenance
  • More than 10,000 use new technology including artificial intelligence
  • About 5,000 restructuring

The Communications and Workers Union (CWU) said BT’s announcement “wasn’t surprising”.

“The introduction of new technologies across the company, along with the completion of construction of the fiber infrastructure to replace the copper network, will always reduce labor costs for the company in the years to come,” said a CWU spokesperson.

But the union said it wanted BT to keep as many of its core staff as possible, while cutting jobs that come from “primarily” subcontractors, and through roles that aren’t replaced when people leave.

BT was released reporting a 12 per cent drop in profit of £1.7bn for the year to April.

Its shares fell more than 7% after its results fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Tips for finding a new job

James Barford, head of telecoms research at Enders Analysis, said the job cuts at BT were mostly about fewer people needed in building networks, while the cuts at Vodafone were “more overall efficiency savings”.

In both cases, he said, the plans were “already in place on a large scale, with the previously described savings in monetary terms rather than staff reductions”.

Perhaps, companies are now talking about job cuts, Barford added, “to help convince skeptical investors that they will actually deliver on the promised savings.”

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