Will advances in technology & AI ultimately take over the need for a human workforce?

As machines, artificial intelligence software and robots become more sophisticated, some fear that we stand to lose millions of jobs as a result. Indeed a recent study found there is a risk that, over the next twenty years, 35% of UK jobs will be at high risk from automation. Whilst this might be a startling statistic it does highlight a potential paradox in this area: will technology become the driving force behind both the growth in productivity and the decline in jobs?

Who is at risk of job loss from automation?

Some industry sectors will inevitably attract greater risk than others. Senior management positions, which attach a fair amount of problem-solving and creativity, are likely to be less susceptible to automation. Jobs that require cognitive function, such as machining and bookkeeping, may be more at risk.

At present, the automotive, food and beverages industries are among the key sectors using robotics, although the use of automation is increasing throughout all areas of commerce. Many aspects of manufacturing and retailing have started introducing machines as an alternative to using manual labour. For example, the growth in self-checkout machines in most stores has reduced the need for as many staff to perform this function.

In addition, the advances in robotics have also started to be implemented in the healthcare industry, which could result in better hospital care. As an example, a robot radiographer has recently been invented and developed so that it is able to read an x-ray over 50% more accurately than its most accomplished human counterpart.

Will automation in the workplace be of help or hindrance?

Whilst automation can be positive for businesses by increasing labour productivity, reducing wage costs, increasing profit margins and also filling labour shortages it could, arguably, increase unemployment, reduce consumer confidence and disposable income levels, and potentially reduce the demand for consumer goods. Either way, automation will continue to transform the workforce and employers are advised to consider the major advantages it could bring to their organisations.

How to prepare for workplace automation 

It is simply impossible to ignore the fact that change is upon us. The best approach is to keep track of the speed and direction of automation, to understand the needs and requirements of your industry in order to stay competitive and to determine where, when and how much to invest in technology to maximise profit margins. By taking a proactive approach to technological advancements, employers will be in the best position to tackle the paradox that this area has presented.

The main thing to consider is the implementation of a strategy which maximises productivity, which could include the introduction of machinery to carry out functions currently undertaken by employees. This could necessitate business restructures which may result in redundancies, but thought must also be given to any new positions which would be created in the new workforce. It is important to consider whether any suitable alternative vacancies are created for existing workers whose roles are replaced by machinery thereby mitigating the effect of unemployment. It could be that changes are required to existing employees’ terms and conditions to effect the business restructure so it is important that employers remain compliant with statutory and contractual obligations and follow their business’ policies and procedures thoroughly when undertaking a restructuring process.

If you need any assistance in conducting a restructure for your business please do not hesitate to contact us.

© SA LAW 2018

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.
The team at SA Law LLP has ‘excellent knowledge of employment law’. Practice head Chris Cook is recommended.
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