Employers’ Digital Practices at Work Survey: First Findings
Digital Futures at Work Research Centre's (digit) nationally representative survey found that only 36% of UK employers have invested in AI-enabled technologies like industrial robots, chat bots, smart assistants and cloud computing over the past five years. It also found that just 10% of those who had not invested planned to do so in the next two years. The findings suggest the UK risks a growing divide between organisations who have invested in new, artificial intelligence-enabled digital technologies and those who haven’t.
There is also evidence of low investment in digital skills training. Despite most employers reporting that it was fairly or very difficult to recruit people with the required skills, less than 10% expected to make a lot of investment in digital skills training in the next 12-24 months. The survey was carried out between November 2021 and June 2022, with a second wave now underway.
- Just over a third of employers had invested in AI-enabled technology in the past five years. They labelled these ‘digital adopters’. Cloud computing and the internet of things (IoT) were by far the most popular types of new digital technologies (79% and 59% of digital adopters invested in these technologies respectively). Investment in AI-enabled equipment and apps was much less frequent.
- Digital adopters were more advanced than digital non-adopters in the use of traditional ICT technologies, especially wearable devices and customer relations software.
- Digital adoption was uneven. Firm size was significant; one in two firms with more than 100 employees were digital adopters compared to around one in three among small enterprises (with less than 50 employees).
- It was rare for employers to have trained all their staff in the previous 12 months. Only six per cent of employers had put all of their employees through some formal digital skills training, although on-the-job training was reported by nearly a quarter of employers.
- Digital adopters reported higher incidence of digital skills training. The widest gap between digital adopters and non-adopters was in relation to informal, on-the-job-training. Around a third of adopters, compared to one fifth of non-adopters, relied on this type of training for the acquisition of digital skills.
In addition to use of AI and other new digital technologies, the survey also explored:
- Use of traditional information and communication technology (ICT)
- Employers' use of data analytics
- Workforce staffing and human resource management practices
- Employee involvement and representation
If the UK economy is to shift its growth model towards some form of digital transformation, then addressing the emerging divide between digital adopters and non-adopters should be an urgent priority.
Nimmi Patel is the Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity at techUK.
She works on all things skills, education, and future of work policy, focusing on upskilling and retraining. Nimmi is also an Advisory Board member of Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (digit). The Centre research aims to increase understanding of how digital technologies are changing work and the implications for employers, workers, job seekers and governments. She is also a member of Chatham House's Common Futures Conversations.
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.