Future skills and responsible automation

Post author image. Andrew Brassleay

Deloitte, in partnership with Business in the Community (BITC), has published the Guide to Responsible Automation. Nicola Inge, BITC Director of Employment and Skills, highlights some considerations for employers looking at re-skilling employees in the context of automation.

Automation and digital transformation are predicted to impact most jobs in the UK over the coming years in some way, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Some industries, such as retail, will be radically reshaped and up to 1.5 million jobs being replaced altogether.

Automation, AI and digital provide business with an extraordinary opportunity to do things differently and, for responsible businesses, there are huge opportunities to use technological change to bring about greater social and environmental benefits. But this needs to be both intentional and strategic, based on a full consideration of all the consequences of the introduction or expansion of technology within the organisation.

As the Guide to Responsible Automation highlights, some roles will be partially automated, and other roles, particularly those lower skilled and more repetitive roles, are more vulnerable to full automation.

The people who are most likely to lose out are those who already have fewer opportunities available to them. These include:

  • workers in lower paid and lower skilled roles
  • part-time workers (disproportionately female)
  • young people
  • older workers.

Deloitte’s research highlights that employees in occupations most at risk of automation are the least likely to engage in re-skilling, with more than half not engaging in training in the previous year.

This lack of engagement in training is echoed by research from City & Guilds. It found that:

  • almost half of respondents had not taken part in any workplace training in the past three years
  • more than one-quarter had not had any training for at least a decade
  • part-time workers, those aged 55 and over, and those from lower socio-economic groups were disproportionately affected by this lack of training investment.

Build, buy, borrow or bot
Businesses urgently need to look at their workforce development plans to ensure they are providing employees with accessible and compelling opportunities to develop their skills in the context of the changes ahead.

In a recent conversation with a member about their plans for meeting their future talent needs, they framed their options as build, buy, borrow or bot. We want to see ‘build’ as being the default starting position for responsible business, matched by greater investment in skills development for their people.

The importance of essential skills
While much of the focus for some industries will be on how they can access the highly specialised digital and technical skills they need in their future workforce, we must also focus on the importance of essential skills such as:

  • teamwork
  • creative thinking
  • problem solving
  • communication.

These are the enduring skills that underpin business success in every context, vital for early careers and throughout people’s working lives. They need to be taught in education, valued and assessed through recruitment and developed through organisational learning and development programmes.

Digital transformation is a people transformation
I was struck by a conversation with the HR director of one of BITC’s retail members recently. They talked powerfully and passionately about their ‘duty of care’ to their employees, while recognising that their workforce will shrink over the next decade. They saw essential skills as giving current workforce the agility they need to work across a wider range of functions within the businesses while equipping them with a broader skillset to put them in a better position to find jobs outside retail in the future. What if every business took this approach?

At BITC, we want to see all our members embracing the opportunities provided by digital to their fullest, and we believe that, if this is done right, it will lead us towards a skilled, inclusive and productive workforce for the future.

Over the past year, BITC has been working collaboratively as part of an essential skills taskforce to test and champion the Skills Builder framework as a universal framework for essential skills. The framework has already been successfully rolled out across the world of education and our members are trailblazing it in their recruitment, learning and development practices.

A shared language and common framework for measuring progress on essential skills could have a transformative effect on enabling people at all stages of their lives to recognise, develop and demonstrate their essential skills.

A powerful case for change
The business case for training your workforce is strong including, but not limited to the:

  • opportunity to retain employees that already know your business
  • reduced costs of recruiting new talent from an increasingly competitive talent pool
  • productivity gains associated with investing in learning.

The Edelman Trust Barometer in 2019 highlighted that three-quarters of people believe that how a business treats its employees is an indicator of trustworthiness.

At BITC, we want to see all our members embracing the opportunities provided by digital to their fullest, and we believe that, if this is done right, it will lead us towards a skilled, inclusive and productive workforce for the future.

Businesses can’t fly solo on this one. Responsible, digital transformation and re-skilling at scale requires businesses to work across silos, breaking down boundaries within their organisations, working with peers across industry and collaborating in places to ensure that the benefits are felt by all.

Download the Deloitte Guide to Responsible Automation, produced in partnership with BITC.

Business in the Community is creating a skilled and inclusive workforce for today and tomorrow