27 Apr 2021
by laura foster

Automation is integral for UK businesses, but only if no one in the UK workforce is left behind

Laura Foster, Programme Manager of Tech & Innovation and lead of techUK's Intelligent Automation Week, and Nimmi Patel, Policy Manager Skills, Talent & Diversity explore how the tech sector can help the UK workforce prepare for automation. Part of techUK's Intelligent Automation Week #AutomationUK

There still remains a common misconception Intelligent Automation will replace jobs. The UK technology sector is leading the charge on digital transformation through Intelligent Automation - and rightly so; As advocates of IA, the technology sector can highlight the well discussed and calculated benefits of these technologies, from productivity and cost-efficiency across many sectors, to protecting key workers and saving lives for the NHS. However, we must also recognise that Intelligent Automation brings a degree of justifiable apprehension for many in the UK workforce and the technology sector is responsible for dispelling any misconceptions that might hinder deployment.

While Intelligent Automation offers significant opportunity for businesses across different sectors, the implications for the future of work are significant. Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed in this Deloitte research paper state that companies must transform their culture and processes, as well as reskill and retrain employees, to receive the full value from Intelligent Automation.

This is not a faraway concern either: UK Government are currently estimating that 7.4% of jobs in England could be automated or partly automated in the coming years, and already 82% of all job vacancies currently require some form of digital skills.

techUK’s Intelligent Automation Campaign has been showcasing best practice on deployment of Intelligent Automation technologies. It is clear from the industry insights shared and from the webinars held that any Intelligent Automation deployment strategy needs to include a workforce strategy that includes retraining and upskillng. In other words, everyone must be a lifelong learner.

So what can the UK tech sector do to help the UK workforce prepare?

  • Invest in the work force of today, and tomorrow. Digital runs throughout every part of an organisation and therefore every employee. By demystifying what digital skills are and focus on their analytical nature, we can further encourage its uptake with a strong narrative. As tech becomes an integral part of work in sectors such as health, climate & sustainability, and financial services, there is an imperative to foster cross-pollination between tech and other areas in our approach to digital skills to ensure people have the knowledge to drive forward progress and help realise the full potential of technology.
  • Integrate digital skills into school curriculum. There is an opportunity to introduce digital skills within the school curriculum in a way that has tech industry support. This would signal to young people that these skills are not only important for tech professional careers but increasingly important for many jobs in many industries. In particular those accredited by industry and employers to open up more accessible and affordable pathways for people looking to retrain for digital roles. More modular, flexible learning can offer easier avenues for people transitioning between sectors or looking to add to their geospatial skills with further digital elements.
  • Make  accessibility a priority across the UK. techUK has found within our Nations and Regions work that building 21st century skills for an inclusive workforce is essential to tackle the immediate challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Closing the Local Digital Capital gap would transform the UK, boosting economic output by as much as £145 billion and creating 2.7 million new jobs in the process.
  • Emphasise Human-machine partnership. Increasing use of automation, AI, and other technologies will streamline manual work tasks and enable workers to focus on creative, forward moving business ideas. Currently, an average of 71% of total task hours across the industries covered in the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report is performed by humans, compared to 29% of total task hours performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022 this average is expected to have shifted to 58% of total task hours performed by humans, and 42% of total task hours performed by machines or algorithms. One example of this human-machine partnership comes from techUK members UiPath, who have already emphasised how RPA has been used effectively in hospitals, allowing ‘nurses to be nurses again’.

Leaving no one behind takes digital skills

Equal opportunity to develop new skills is integral to the new digital workforce in the UK. This includes looking at the intersection of diversity and innovation and access to education at all stages of career growth. Without this, businesses are at real risk of under developing the right skills and, crucially, impacted groups will be unable to see these new opportunities as relevant and accessible for them.

Alongside diversity, understanding Local Digital Capital that can build, sustain, and grow a local tech ecosystem that enables citizens, companies, and the public sector to interact and work together can ensure Intelligent Automation is a positive tool for all, rather than exclusionary.

You can read all insights from techUK's Intelligent Automation Week here

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

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Nimmi Patel

Nimmi Patel

Policy Manager, Skills, Talent and Diversity, techUK

Nimmi Patel is the Policy Manager for Skills, Talent and Diversity at techUK.

She works on all things skills policy, focusing on upskilling and retrain. She is committed to embedding diversity in the UK tech pipeline from classroom to boardroom working with partners such as the Tech Talent Charter and the WISE Campaign. Nimmi also leads techUK’s immigration work, collaborating with techUK members and stakeholders to create an environment that attracts the best talent to the UK.

Prior to joining the team, she worked for the UK Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party and holds a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Manchester and is currently studying MA Strategic Communications at King’s College London.

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laura foster

Programme Manager, techUK

[email protected]

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