• Rakesh Sangani

Automation in the UK - are the robots really coming for our jobs?

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

On Monday, the BBC published an in-depth report which told us that nearly 40,000 jobs in retail have been affected by high street upheaval. The job losses, the report revealed, come as a result of a move to online shopping, and because as tech use in retail skyrockets, automation is replacing manual workers in the sector.

This news follows our own report, released last week, which looked at the impact of automation on jobs in retail, as well as in other prominent UK industries. The Independent wrote a piece on the key findings: that 88% of UK firms have automated some aspect of their business in the last six months and that Brexit is going to drive more automation for a quarter of all UK companies, as foreign workers depart the UK.

The BBC piece and our report raised an interesting debate for many: are bots really coming for our jobs? Or is it simply that the nature of work is changing?

Indeed, our research found that 71% of companies are using automation (in processes like HR, payroll, customer services and IT) to remove mundane activities and make the lives of employees better, and to harness their skills more effectively.

And this is consistent with much of the thinking out there, at least that which goes beyond the scary headlines. Experts agree that in the near term, occupations are more likely to be transformed by digital technology than destroyed by it.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that up to a third of the workforce will have to switch to new occupations by 2030. And the work of the future, it seems clear, is going to be digitally inflected. Software skills are increasingly essential to every field. Most tech workers no longer work in the tech industry, and that trend is accelerating quickly.

And it’s not just tech skills which are going to be important as the pace of automation marches on. Critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration will all be valued over skills that can, and ultimately will, be commoditized. It’s work that computers can’t do as effectively as humans which will be the most important to harness for businesses in a tech-driven economy.

But what do you think? We all know the benefits for business of automation by now: efficiency, speed, cost savings and often closer relationships with customers. But how can employees make automation work for them too? And how can we train the employees of the future (who may have jobs which don’t exist yet). We’d love to hear your thoughts.

And remember to download our full report on the uptake of automation for UK businesses here.