• International Workplace
  • 1 May 2018

The robots are coming: are your employees prepared?

Skills needs are constantly shifting, as innovative technologies, new ideas and modern strategies change the face of work. To stay relevant, employers and employees must continuously update their skills, in preparation for the needs of the future. Yet new research from ADP – The Workforce View in Europe – shows this may not be happening fast enough, with only 83% of workers feeling confident that they have the skills to succeed in their role.

There is no doubt that the Europe of 2018 looks very different from the Europe of a few years ago, the report says. Widespread economic growth and falling unemployment point to a period of relative stability, although the political landscape continues to present numerous uncertainties. The apparent economic and employment stability also masks a continent that is advancing faster than we would have imagined possible, with technology in the driving seat.

According to the research, at the forefront of this rapid change is the workplace, with organisations working frantically to take advantage of the innovations that are emerging to get ahead in an increasingly competitive world. But what does all this change mean for employees, who are faced with new skills demands, new ways of working, and the threat of automation? 

The Workforce View in Europe 2018 provides a barometer of how employees are feeling, with a survey of almost 10,000 workers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.

“It’s impossible to talk about skills in 2018 without touching on the issue of automation,” the report states. “With artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics being deployed at a rapid pace across a range of industries, many employees are understandably concerned about what this means for their future in the workplace. In fact, nearly a third (28%) of Europe’s workforce say they are worried that their job will be automated at some point in the future.”

Having said that, few respondents believe this change is imminent, with only one in 50 (2%) fearing their job will become automated or replaced by a robot in the next year. However, the number increases to 15% who believe it will happen in five years, and over a quarter (28%) who estimate it will take around ten.

Concern about automation is greater amongst the younger age groups, with almost four out of every ten (39%) 16- to 24-year-olds worrying that their job will be automated, compared to just 18% of those in the 55+ age group. This could be because they are less established in their careers and have more of their working life ahead of them, but it certainly demonstrates that the impact of AI is already firmly placed in the minds of the young.

With so many workers facing redundancy or redeployment due to technology, retraining and upskilling the workforce will help ensure they have the skills demanded by the new world of work. It is therefore encouraging that over a third of respondents (37%) say their organisation is already doing this, and a further 15% believe their employer is planning to. However, that does leave almost half (48%) of workers with the prospect of seeing their skills being replaced in the not too distant future, if their employer doesn’t act quickly.

“New technologies also bring unfamiliar risks and challenges, as we’ve seen in the explosion in data and the security and privacy issues that come with it,” says Don McGuire in his foreword. “HR teams are increasingly maximising the information at their disposal to better understand their workforce and implement more effective strategies, but this must be done responsibly. With GDPR a very real concern, employers must ensure they are prepared.”

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK commented:

“Automation may seem like an issue for future generations, but our findings show that machines could replace thousands of employees in as few as five years. Artificial intelligence and robotics are progressing at such a pace that machines will soon have the capability to do the job of humans in a whole range of professions and industries. And while this might be good for efficiency and productivity, it could leave thousands facing redundancy and change the face of the workplace forever. However, the fear is often worse than the reality.

“More robots in the workplace won’t mean all humans become obsolete, as new and maybe better jobs will be created, while other roles will change considerably. By starting to upskill and retrain workers now, employers can ensure they and their employees are as ready as possible to work side-by-side with the machines. That’s why it is so important for companies to look to provide greater clarity on what their workplace will look like with more automation, highlighting the opportunities that will arise.”

The full report is available to download here.