Low robot growth risk to wellbeing and productivity, finds inquiry

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The four day week and more fulfilling work is beyond the grasp of UK’s workforce because of the government’s failure to support businesses in the move to automation and robots. That’s according to a committee whose inquiry ‘Automation and the future of work’ has just been published.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, in its report issued on 18 September, says that the number of installed industrial robots the UK has per 10,000 of its workers is 85 – well below the average number of 106 for all the countries of Europe and only just in line with the worldwide average of the same number. Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia and France all overtake the UK’s average for robots.

Rachel Reeves, Chair of BEIS said that previous studies have focused on the risks of automation, such as job loss, not how to facilitate the move to the future of which “there is no suggestion that it can or should be prevented from happening”.

“If we are to reap the potential benefits in the future of improved living standards, more fulfilling work, and the 4-day working week, the Government needs to do more to support British businesses and universities to collaborate and innovate,” she said.

“The switch to automation brings challenges for businesses and for workers, with fears for livelihoods or disruption to job roles coming to the fore. The real danger for the UK economy and for future jobs growth is, however, not that we have too many robots in the workplace but that we have too few.

“For all the potential of the UK, and despite our excellent tech and research base, the fact is that we are lagging behind our international competitors in our adoption of robot and automation technologies.”

Number of UK robots is well below the European average and and only just in line with the worldwide average, says the inquiry

The inquiry urges government to draw up a “UK Robot and AI Strategy” to support businesses and workers as well as a new tax incentive designed to encourage investment in new technology.

The ONS says 64.9 per cent of workers are at “medium risk” of being replaced by robots. The proportion of UK workers at “high risk” of automation is at 7.4 per cent, according to findings published in March.

However, the inquiry suggests that that workers’ fears over job loss and other negative impacts are overplayed, quoting research by Personnel Today that found more than half of workers are “optimistic about their working life and almost three quarters of workers are confident they personally can navigate any change.

It also concludes that a more automated British workplace should make businesses more “productive, improve the supply of high-quality jobs, and support working people to have more leisure time.”

The types of task most associated with a risk of automation include those that are focused on operating machinery, while tasks that require creativity, human contact or planning are those least associated with automated replacement.

Ian Funnell of industrial automation manufacturer ABB told the Inquiry for example,  that their projects are intended to take out tasks that are “repetitive, boring for people to do, perhaps dangerous”.

Automation and the future of work inquiry: here

Ok computer? Cambridge university report here 



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