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The Robots Are Coming and UK Employers Aren’t Prepared


Automation in the workplace is expected to surge in the next three years, but few UK companies and HR functions are prepared to handle it.

UK employers expect automation will account for, on average, 22% of work being done in the next three years, according to the “Global Future of Work Survey” from Willis Towers Watson. That compares with 12% of work companies said is being done using AI and robotics today, and just 7% three years ago.

“UK companies clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with little signs of slowing down anytime soon,” said George Zarkadakis, digital lead for Willis Towers Watson’s talent and rewards practice. “The implications for HR and talent strategies are immediate. On one hand, the growing use of AI, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it HR challenges that only few organizations are prepared to tackle.”

Less than 7% of respondents said their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitalization although, on average, fewer than one-third are somewhat prepared and have already taken some action to prepare for the future. For example, 31% of companies reported having taken steps to address talent deficits through workforce planning and actions, while 32% of respondents said their companies have taken action to identify the emerging skills required for their business; 29% have taken action to match talent to the new work requirements, and 27% have taken action to enable careers based on a more agile and flattened organization structure.

Additionally, many respondents said they are either planning to take action this year or are considering measures to prepare for the future, such as deconstructing jobs and identifying which tasks can be automated (50%) and identifying reskilling pathways for talent whose work is being subsumed by automation (48%). Employers are also taking action to identify “skill and will” gaps as automation changes skill premiums (50%) and reconfigure total rewards and benefits to fit a radically different workforce (53%).

“Most companies believe automation will have a significant impact on leaders and managers in the next three years,” said George Zarkadakis. This is underscored by the percentage of companies that said automation will change how managers educate workers on the impact of automation on their jobs in the next three years (32% this year versus 61% in 2020).

Additionally, almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) said leaders will need to think differently about the requirements and skills for successors and succession management as a result of automation. 


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