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 2019

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.
Read the latest Employment Views & Insights
The team at SA Law LLP has ‘excellent knowledge of employment law’. Practice head Chris Cook is recommended.
The Legal 500
SA Law Work Life red mug and glasses
Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Proposed changes to NDA rules 'not enough to end workplace harassment'

Partner Keely Rushmore comments in People Management about the government's announcement.

Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Smart Exits: Protected Conversations and Termination Payments

Chris Cook addresses the most appropriate ways of reaching a settlement when managing an employee's exit from a company.

Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Increased rights for agency and zero-hours workers

The ‘Good Work Plan’ aims to address the rights of those with atypical worker statuses, including agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts.

Chris Cook handles the full range of employment law for both individuals and organisations. He receives particular recognition for his strong TUPE expertise.…
Chambers & Partners
Phone Box with Man in a Bowler Hat
Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Consultation into extending redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents

New consultation for redundancy protection while on or shortly after maternity leave or shared parental leave.

Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
A guide to flexible working & flexible working requests

Flexible working can assist employers in attracting and retaining talented candidates and staff. Our guide covers the key questions and considerations…

SA Law Red arrow neon light image
Views & Insights
Google issued with £44m fine over GDPR breach

Head of Employment and Data Protection, Chris Cook, explains Google's GDPR breach that led to landmark £44 million fine.

Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
CEO and average worker pay gap reporting launches

Latest comment in HR Magazine: Keely explains what HR teams should know about the CEO and average worker pay gap regulations, which come into force in…

Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Deliveroo riders’ lose latest challenge to their employment status

The latest development in the Deliveroo gig-economy case sees riders appeal for trade union representation denied