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AI and automation causing as much hiring as firing in UK businesses

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will have a widespread impact on jobs, new research shows. Overall, the introduction of these new technologies at work will see job opportunities grow, by enhancing roles, employee skills and their pay. However, lack of thought and planning on how people and technology work together is reducing productivity improvements and increasing the risk of people being left behind.   

This is according to a new report, People and Machines: From Hype to Reality’ from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development and PA Consulting, the innovation and transformation consultancy. It is one of the first comprehensive surveys of both employees and employers that explores how AI and automation are already being used in workplaces in the UK. It shows that AI and automation are radically shaping work and jobs and that, overall, this is happening in a way that is creating better, more fulfilling jobs for staff. 

The CIPD and PA’s research is based on a survey of 759 UK employers, of which 226 have made investments in AI and automation over the past five years. It found that: 

  • Almost a third (32%) of UK organisations have invested in AI and automation in the last five years.
  • Overall, 35% of employers saw more and 25% saw fewer jobs in the areas most affected by AI and automation (others saw no change).
  • 44% of employers introducing AI and automation believed the main jobs affected had become more secure, just 18% said they became less secure.
  • Two in five employers (41%) reported pay increases for the roles most affected by AI.

When speaking to employees at two firms that are already using AI and automation, the research shows more of a ‘mixed bag’ when it comes to outcomes for individuals:

  • 54% of employees said that AI or automation had not helped them to do their job better, 28% felt that it had and 19% neither agreed or disagreed, highlighting the risk to performance gains.
  • Employees were split on how AI and automation have affected the mental demands of their work (28% said it had increased, 25% said decreased).
  • One in four (24%) have experienced a decrease in their workload, with a similar proportion (23%) experiencing an increase.
  • 43% of workers said that that they were learning new things and a third (33%) said they were doing more interesting tasks (only 6% noted a decrease).
  • Employees said that AI and automation make their work faster (45%) and 16% reported that the pace of their work has slowed down (others noted no change).

The mix of outcomes for staff raises concerns about a lack of strategic planning when it comes to introducing AI in the workplace. It indicates that businesses are failing to understand the impact it will have on both current and future skills and the training needed to support this. It also highlights that employers need to carefully consider job design to ensure that technology gets the best out of people and that organisations get the most out of their investments in new technology. 

In response, the CIPD and PA are calling for effective people strategies to be at the heart of decision-making and integration of new technologies at work. 

Peter Cheese, chief executive for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said:

“All evidence suggests that the impact of AI and automation stands to be significant, with the power to create, change and destroy jobs on a scale that hasn’t been seen before. The only question is the timeframe for this change. Rather than rushing to embrace new technology, employers need to really understand how it will work in practice with their greatest asset, their people. Technology alone will not drive performance. To get the best outcomes for businesses as well as individuals, we need to consciously design and evolve jobs based on the principles of good work, and bring together the best of technology and people.” 

The CIPD/PA research shows that many businesses are failing to consider how new technology will work with the workforce, both in the short and long-term. HR is the least likely business function to be involved in investment decisions on AI and automation (being involved in 55% of cases) and is involved in just 45% of implementation exercises. 

Katharine Henley, workforce transformation expert at PA Consulting, said:

“Our research shows that it’s a long way from the ‘robots will take my job’ anxiety that dominates the media’s image of AI and automation. There’s a real opportunity for HR to equip businesses to think big and seize the opportunity to transform themselves. 

“HR is the essential glue between people and machines. It has a pivotal role to play, for people as well as business, in making AI and automation work. We have moved on from simply configuring the technology, plugging it in and switching it on. We have an opportunity to make a difference to people’s working lives by considering how we use technology to enhance the employee experience. Our research found that AI/automation can increase wellbeing by providing more control, more freedom over where people work and increasing more complex or interesting tasks. If HR teams work closely with IT to plan their future organisation in the right way, our future workforce could find the workplace more rewarding and enjoyable. Younger generations are looking at the workplace as somewhere to curate different experiences. Employers that focus on the creation of a better employee experience will attract the best talent.”

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