Ben Kentish 10pm - 1am
BT to replace 10,000 workers with AI as part of wider cull of up to 55,000 staff in bid to slash costs
18 May 2023, 12:46 | Updated: 18 May 2023, 14:12
BT will cut up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade, with nearly a fifth of those replaced by technologies like artificial intelligence, in an effort to become a "leaner" business, the company said.
Listen to this article
BT, which currently has 130,000 employees, wants to cut that to between 75,000 and 90,000 by 2030.
The cost-cutting came as the company reported a 12% drop in annual profits on Thursday.
A "big chunk" of the jobs lost will be in the UK at the completion of the rollout of the fibre broadband and 5G network, chief executive Philip Jansen said.
AI could be used to replace workers in customer service call handling, and network diagnostics.
"Whenever you get new technologies you can get big changes, Mr Jansen said. "For a company like BT there is a huge opportunity to use AI to be more efficient.
"There is a sort of 10,000 reduction from that sort of automated digitisation - we will be a huge beneficiary of AI. I believe generative AI is a huge leap forward; yes, we have to be careful, but it is a massive change.
"We will rely on a much smaller workforce and new networks are much more efficient. There will be fewer contractors, natural attrition and reskilling. Only 5,000 [job cuts] in this plan are what you would call ‘normal’ restructuring. This is not new news to any of our union partners."
Mr Jansen said that customers will not feel like they are talking to robots. He added: "We are multi-channel, we are online, we have 450 stores and that's not changing at all.
"There are plenty of opportunities for our customers to deal with people at BT, plenty of people to speak to."
A trade union said it was "deeply concerned" about the scale of the cuts.
Prospect national secretary John Ferrett said: "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.
"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."
But the Communication Workers Union said the cuts were not a surprise to its members.
This caller shares concerns about AI taking over
A spokesman for the union said: "The introduction of new technologies across the company along with the completion of the fibre infrastructure build replacing the copper network was always going to result in less labour costs for the company in the coming years.
"However, we have made it categorically clear to BT that we want to retain as many direct labour jobs as possible and that any reduction should come from subcontractors in the first instance and natural attrition."
BT's profits before tax were £1.7bn for the full year to March 31 2023, down 12% from nearly £2bn in the previous financial year, the company announced on Thursday morning.
The company's share price dropped after the results were announced, nearly 8% as of 12.30pm on Thursday.