The use of digital technology is becoming increasingly pervasive in the workplace, but what are its actual impacts on our employment?
We know digital technology has had an impact on every area of our lives. We can manage almost our entire lives through our smartphones, from arranging appointments to paying bills. Technological innovations have also found a way into the workplace, completely revolutionising the way we work.
As digital technology is embedded into workplaces, it can unsettle workers. With technologies including artificial intelligence and automation able to replicate elements of our jobs, it’s easy to see why. Half of UK workers believe they may be replaced by automation, AI, or robots in the next decade. A further 61% are concerned about AI.
While it’s inevitable that digital technology and AI will replace some low-skilled, manual jobs, the good news is that it will create more jobs than it eradicates. According to the World Economic Forum, technology will displace 85 million jobs globally but create 97 million new roles by 2025. What’s more, it will enhance skilled positions and allow employees to be more efficient and productive.
How will AI and automation change the workforce?
As with every industrial revolution, the jobs most likely to be made redundant by digital technology are those that are low-skilled and easily replicated with automation. The ONS predicts that the roles at the highest risk from automation are waiters, shelf-fillers, “elementary sales occupations” (manual roles that can include shop greeters and trolley collectors), bar staff, and kitchen and catering assistants.
On the surface, this is concerning. But these roles only make up 7.4% of all jobs in the UK. The elimination of manual jobs has always been a byproduct of technological advancements. No longer do we have roles like lift operators, bus conductors, or traditional switchboard operators in the UK because we no longer need them. These occupations were rendered unnecessary by technology and replaced with jobs that were in higher demand.
Roles at the lowest risk of being made redundant include dentists, teachers, and medical practitioners. Additionally, senior executives and directors are at low risk of automation. These roles all have natural human elements, which make them essential and irreplaceable. Some roles considered at medium risk, including HGV drivers and construction operatives, will likely see parts of their jobs automated. This means that these roles are vital but could be made more efficient, allowing employees to achieve more in their working day.
The real challenge of digital technology
The fact that digital technology will create more jobs than it eradicates means the biggest concern is not the net loss of jobs but a digital skills gap.
Soft skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving, stress tolerance, and self-management, will be in high demand. This is good news because these skills are inherently human. So, while some roles with soft skills will no longer be necessary, the essential traits in the future can’t be replicated by robots.
However, the Learning & Work Institute has said that the UK is on the verge of a “catastrophic” skills shortage, particularly when it comes to digital skills. Everyday tech skills, such as understanding how to complete tasks using a mobile phone or PC, are in the highest demand. Furthermore, specialist skills in fields including AI, cloud software, and automation are in increasingly high demand. What we’re seeing, however, is school and university-leavers enter the workforce lacking skills in both of these key areas.
Why emerging technologies are good for workers
Not only will technologies like AI and automation create more jobs, but they’ll also allow people to be more productive in their existing and future roles. Increased efficiency again raises concerns about job security. If your job can be done in half the time, why would you continue to be employed full-time?
Research has shown that before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in the UK have been working hours that are too long. A 2019 CIPD survey showed that three out of five UK workers put in an additional 10 hours a week. A fifth said they were exhausted in their jobs and under “excessive pressure”, while a further two-thirds have experienced work-related health problems.
Equally, while home-working has resulted in a better work-life balance for many, employees in the UK are working an extra two hours a day on average, with the majority not logging off until 8pm. With this in mind, an increase in efficiency has the potential to solve this overworking crisis.
If you can automate or eliminate the manual, repetitive elements of a job, you can focus on the key areas of a role. This greatly increases productivity, producing a more valuable output. This is key for any business, but it also reduces stress amongst the workforce and gives them a better work-life balance.
Using everyday technology to improve efficiency
Let’s take the medium-risk role of an HGV driver as an example. On the face of it, you might not think there’s much to automate. But beyond getting from A to B, drivers have a lot of responsibilities. A crucial part of their role is to ensure the goods reach the right person and record proof of their deliveries. If they’re collecting paper documentation, not only is there a risk of misplacing this, but this may result in additional data entry or admin processing.
These additional processes can be the difference between a driver finishing on time and heading home from their last job of the day or going to the office and putting in an extra hour or two a day. Implementing something as simple as electronic proof of delivery software can reduce this additional work dramatically.
Equally, senior executives in any type of business can take advantage of powerful business management tools which use artificial intelligence to support their strategic decision-making. These tools will never make the decisions for you or lead your business on an upward trajectory, but they’ll allow you to make intelligent and informed decisions.
Technological advancements always come with fears around the future of humans in the workforce. But these fears have never materialised. Humans as a group weren’t replaced by computers when they were brought into the workplace, and artificial intelligence won’t replace us entirely either. What it will do is make us more efficient, allowing us to achieve more in the workday. This is good news for executives because workforce efficiency is key to profitability. It also gives employees a better work-life balance. Win-win.