Brexit will inevitably affect the supply of skilled and unskilled labour into the UK, with knock-on effects for many enterprises. What is the potential for ‘bots and AI systems to fill the gap, and how can companies use this challenge as an opportunity to not only survive Brexit, but to thrive long into the future?
The potential for robots to steal our jobs has been a headline-grabbing story in recent years and yet Britain has a relatively low take-up of automation compared to other industrialised nations and in particular our European neighbours.
For all the uncertainty around Brexit, one thing is becoming clear: the disruption to labour supply, while a cause of concern to many, could also be a catalyst for automation. Indeed, this could be the chance for the UK to leap-frog other nations in its application of such technologies, improving productivity and cutting costs.
Despite British universities’ leading global position in AI research, access to an open EU labour market has somewhat curbed the need for UK companies to invest in automation. This could explain why the UK lags its industrialised counterparts in the use of robots. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the UK uses 71 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to 300 in Japan and Germany and 500 in South Korea.
Armed with this knowledge, we think Brexit can be a positive trigger for change, and we are encouraging organisations to use the opportunity to rethink their whole business, from strategy and organisational design to workforce and recruitment.
We are already seeing automation picking up in industries such as farming and hospitality, which rely heavily on overseas workers, particularly from the EU. Cognitive technologies are beginning to replace certain functions in financial services, too. Indeed the Harvey Nash / KPMG Chief Information Officer (CIO) Survey 2017 shows that 34 percent of leaders are already investing or planning to invest in digital labour this year, while 62 percent of respondents from larger organisations are already investing in digital technologies.
What we are encouraging organisations to do is plan staging posts. Some sectors, particularly those that rely on migrant labour, might have to accelerate their transition. But the process should be mapped out with a clear business-wide strategy and by applying new technologies in specific pilots that target certain processes, rather than an all-out investment.
It is not just about technology, either. Leaders must consider the cultural change that has to take place. Increasingly, CEOs must understand the impact of the technological revolution in order to cascade the knowledge down to managers and other staff. Businesses have an opportunity to engage employees to help them better understand AI and robotics, but this must be led from the top.The pace of technological change is unlikely to slow over the coming years, but the transition to greater automation is not a straightforward path. Many challenges lie ahead.
Cognitive technologies have the potential to transform the HR function by making it smaller, but with a bigger strategic impact. Forty four percent of respondents in our most recent HR Transformation Survey said their spend on HR technology in 2017 is ‘higher’ or ‘much higher’ versus 2016; and the freeing up of staff resource to perform more strategic activities was cited as the number-one reason for such investment.
One message of reassurance to staff should be the potential of technology to create new jobs just as it destroys old ones - jobs we might not even know yet.
Despite recent technological leaps, it is still difficult to replace creativity and innovation. Instead of displacing humans, machine learning and cognitive platforms can enhance our skills and expertise. The challenge for leaders is to integrate human and digital labour, side-by-side, as they negotiate the challenges of Brexit.
To read more in-depth insights into artificial intelligence and its advantages, download our full report: Advantage AI.